The Bohlen-Pierce Symposium
First symposium on the Bohlen-Pierce scale, Boston, March 7 – 9, 2010
Welcome by the project partners
Categories: Registration

We are happy and excited to welcome so many accomplished and eminent musicians and researchers, and to have the chance to share music and ideas. The Boston Microtonal Society features many approaches to microtonality in our concerts, as well as in our lectures and workshops—yet the Bohlen-Pierce scale was unknown in our circle until recently. Since promoting the practice and performance of microtonal music has always been our central mission, we were impressed by the extent to which this one scale, born of pure theory, has ultimately caught the imagination of so many composers, instrument builders, and performers. We were eager to collaborate with Georg Hajdu in this project, which brings together many interesting and creative minds. We look forward with great excitement to this celebration of the success of a musical idea.

Julia Werntz, Boston Microtonal Society Artistic Director
James Bergin, Boston Microtonal Society Executive Director

On behalf of the Berklee College of Music, I want to welcome all of you to the Bohlen-Pierce Symposium and to tell you all how excited I am to hear your work, to share my work, to present your work at Berklee, and to present the work of my Berklee students and alumni to all of you.

In the spirit of John Pierce, the grandfather of computer music and the co-discoverer of the Bohlen-Pierce scale, this important and historic gathering has brought together, for the first time, the artist and technological innovators from Northeastern University, The New England Conservatory and The Berklee College of Music. Spearheaded by Julia Werntz, James Bergin and The Boston Microtonal Society, and with the generous support of Annette Klein and The Goethe-Institute Boston, a group of incredibly passionate and gifted people, from right in the neighborhood, are now working together, sharing their unique perspectives, inspiring their students and colleagues, and most importantly, inspiring each other to write and perform incredible and important new music.

None of this would have happened without the vision and dedication of Professor Georg Hajdu from the Hochschule fur Musik and Theater in Hamburg.  Georg, a visiting composer and professor at Northeastern University, brought together not only the leading innovators here in Boston, but he reached out around the world to all of you, who for years now, have been researching, composing, performing, and building instruments in the Bohlen-Pierce scale. Thanks to Georg Hajdu for dreaming this dream and for making all of us a part of it. And thanks to all of you for answering his call and for coming here to Boston to participate in this this historically important meeting of minds and ears.  We have all recognized that there is something very “special” about this Bohlen-Pierce tuning, and the proof is in the beautiful, powerful, and incredibly different music that we will all be presenting here during the symposium.

I extend the warmest welcome to all of you, and I thank you all for coming to Boston and for bringing and sharing your Bohlen-Pierce work, and inspiring all of us with your ideas, approaches, and solutions. It is my hope that what we discover together at this sympossium will inspire us, and those who follow us, for years to come.

Dr. Richard Boulanger
Professor of Electronic Production and Design
Berklee College of Music

It was during after a concert in May of 2008, when Julia Werntz, co-director of the Boston Microtonal Society and theory faculty at the New England Conservatory, and I had first talked about the possibility to center a larger event around the Bohlen-Pierce scale, for which the first acoustic clarinets had just been developed by Toronto-based clarinet maker Stephen Fox and used in a concert in Canada, as well as shortly thereafter in Hamburg, Germany.

Little did I know about the excitement that this idea would generate, particularly in the city of Boston, which seems to me the ideal place to advance a concept rooted in both academic research and artistic experimentalism—a place so unique for its abundance of venerable music institutions that it came as no surprise that a practitioner of Bohlen-Pierce music could be found here. This person, Dr. Richard Boulanger of the Berklee College of Music came on board in September of 2009, after I had just learned that the Goethe Institute had accepted my project proposal as part of their newly created artist residency program. Hearing about my stay, my friend and UC Berkeley class mate, Anthony De Ritis, now professor and chairman of the music department at Northeastern University, invited me to teach a semester in his department, and provided the institutional backing that an endeavor such as this one dearly needs. Serendipitously, it turned out that my contact at the local Goethe Institute, Annette Klein, is a trained violist, which we have immediately put to work in the one piece that requires a viola.

I was excited by the response that our call for presentations elicited. The very best representatives in the field, foremost Heinz Bohlen and Max Mathews, collaborator and friend of the late John R. Pierce, have contributed to the first symposium exclusively dedicated to this scale, which was only discovered almost 40 years ago, when Bohlen lived in the city of Hamburg.

The three concerts with the extraordinary number of 24 premieres are centered around musicians from three countries, Canada, Germany and the United States representing current directions of acoustic, live electronic and computer performance of Bohlen-Pierce music, encompassing a huge stylistic range from purely avant-garde to pop.

The Bohlen-Pierce scale, with its subdivision of the compound fifth into 13 steps, may never supersede our familiar 12-tone tuning, but it will provide an opportunity for diversity and the formation of a practice group and community built around a common goal: stretching our ears and inviting listeners to gently leave their comfort zone in order to explore unfamiliar, yet intriguing sonorities.

My gratitude goes to Julia Werntz and James Bergin of the Boston Microtonal Society, Anthony De Ritis of Northeastern University, Richard Boulanger of the Berklee College of Music, and Annette Klein of the Goethe Institute Boston for their relentless support and, in the latter case, for supporting a commission for four Bohlen-Pierce clarinets by my former teacher Clarence Barlow (who taught me think about scales and tonality in novel ways). Compliments also to the numerous composers and performers who will take and already have taken their time and effort to contribute to the success of this event, and thanks to the aforementioned institutions as well as the New England Conservatory for providing their spaces and refreshments for lectures and concerts. Kudos to Maureen Ton for her beautiful design work.

Georg Hajdu
Professor of Multimedia Composition
Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hamburg

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