Tag Archives: Matt Marks

Composer Matt Marks: Cause of death revealed

Composer-performer Matt Marks, seen here performing in 2010, died Friday from heart failure, his fiancée, composer Mary Kouyoumdjian, tells The New York Times.

The Times obituary also cited information from Marks’ sister, Los Angeles TV journalist Suzanne Marques, about a genetic condition her brother had.

Marks, who was 38 when he died in St. Louis while working with the New Music ensemble Alarm Will Sound, which he confounded, was diagnosed at age 9 with HHT (hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia), a genetic disorder that causes formation of abnormal blood vessels, Marques tells the Times, expanding on a Facebook post she wrote the day after Marks died.

The disorder helped fuel his intellectual curiosity, Marques said, because it forced him to avoid physical exertion.

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UPDATE: Fund for composer Mary Kouyoumdjian after death of fiancé Matt Marks passes $33,000

Composers Matt Marks and Mary Kouyoumdjian on a trip to Maine posted on her Facebook page.

The Columbia University music faculty has set up a GoFundMe campaign for composer Mary Kouyoumdjian’s possible “emergency costs” in the wake of the death of her fiancé, composer and Alarm Will Sound founding member Matt Marks.

By midday Tuesday, the fund, whose initial goal was $5,000, had attracted more than $33,000 in contributions.

To view the campaign and donate, GO HERE.

On the Slipped Disc New Music blog, commenter trolls (I guess there are trolls in every part of the internet, but this stunned me) have been horribly and unnecessarily brutal in questioning or condemning the fund-raising campaign for Kouyoumdjian.

I don’t know what unexpected expenses she might be facing as a result of her fiancé’s death, but it seems to me that it’s an individual’s prerogative to contribute to any cause he or she chooses.

Although I haven’t seen a wedding date for the couple mentioned, recent social media posts indicate the couple must have set one. There were mentions of picking out a dress and tasting wedding cakes, things that generally aren’t done prospectively,

Marks’ death Friday morning remains officially unexplained, though his sister, Suzanne Marques, in a lovingly gut-wrenching Facebook tribute to her “baby brother,” discusses a serious health issue he faced. Her exposition appears to provide at least a clue to what might have happened.

It cast something of a pall on this weekend’s Bang on a Can Marathon — a 10-plus hour concert of New Music, the world that nurtures the music of Marks and Kouyoumdjian — at New York University’s Skirball Performing Arts Center, It was addressed in a beautiful statement read by Bang on a Can All-Stars member Ken Thomson.

New York composer Matt Marks dies at 38

Composer Matt Marks died Friday, May 11, 2018.

Composer Matt Marks died Friday, May 11, 2018.

Talented young composer Matt Marks  — really a quadruple threat, given his beautiful singing ability, high-level horn playing (he was a founding member of leading contemporary music ensemble Alarm Will Sound), and arranging — died Friday, May 11.

He was 38.

He died in St. Louis, Missouri, where Alarm Will Sound had performed on May 9 and had been doing some recording, the band’s marketing director, Michael Clayville, tells NPR’s Deceptive Cadence blog.

Related: Fundraiser for Matt Marks’ fiancée

Learning of the sweet, funny, and sometimes acid-tongued Marks’ death under any circumstances would have been gutting. But my first clue came when composer Ted Hearne’s heartfelt tribute turned up in my Facebook feed Saturday night. I was in New Music setting that was such a familiar part of Marks’ life: at the Alexander Kasser Theater in Montclair, New Jersey, for a Peak Performances presentation of Julia Wolfe and Maya Beiser’s “Spinning,”with composer David Lang and artist Suzanne Bocanegra among the members of the audience.

The context — Peak Performances has a track record of incubating powerful new works, including David T. Little’s “Dog Days,” which springs from a well that also nourished Marks’ work — made the news of his death that much more of a gut punch.

Marks’ passing was announced on Facebook by his fiancee, Mary Kouyoumdjian.

No cause of death was given.

Alarm Will Sound posted an announcement hours after Kouyoumdjian, which precisely repeated her parting admonition: “We appreciate your sensitivity during this difficult time.”

The always funny Marks — he frequently offered random, wry, witty commentary on Twitter, lately as “Matt Marks (aka JonBenét Gramsci)” and for many years, simply under the childlike moniker “Mafoo” —  died the morning after he tweeted news that the National Endowment for the Arts had approved a $10,000 grant for the staging of his splendid opera, “Mata Hari” (seen last year at New York’s Prototype Festival) at the West Edge Opera in Berkeley, California, in August.

WATCH: An excerpt from composer Matt Marks’ opera “Mata Hari”:

I saw and was impressed by “Mata Hari” at Prototype —  where the composer, as always made a point to offer a cheerful hello —  Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? last posted about him in 2010, after a performance of his earlier work, “The Little Death: Vol. 1,” which he also performed with soprano Mellissa Hughes.

So, I couldn’t say I knew him well, and don’t wish to take anything away from his close friends and family. I simply knew him through his often brilliant and usually funny work, and his public persona of a down-to-earth person who was consistently pleasant and friendly.

Composers Ted Hearne, far left, and Caroline Shaw, far right, were in the chorus for a performance of Matt Marks'

Composers Ted Hearne, far left, and Caroline Shaw, far right, were in the chorus for a performance of Matt Marks’ “The Little Death: Vol. 1” at Galapagos in Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood in 2010, with Marks and Mellissa Hughes in the lead roles. (© 2010, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

Marks had only begun to reveal the full extent of his ability. He’s a composer who always held a special place in my heart because I got to see him and his work early on and watch him grow and blossom.

R.I.P. Matt Marks.

WATCH: The Beatles’ “Revolution No. 9,” arranged by Matt Marks:

Donnacha Dennehy and Alarm Will Sound leave us Hunger-ing for more

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Alarm Will Sound (Photo by Justin Bernhaut)

Famine isn’t a cheery topic. And when we’re talking about the Great Irish Famine of 1845-1852, it could seem like musty and old as well as unpleasant.

And, let’s face it, the Great Famine is not a happy subject.

Luckily, when the fantastic Irish composer and Crash Ensemble bandleader Donnacha Dennehy takes on the monumental subject, it assumes a magical, transcendent quality.

Dennehy and the awesome 20-member New Music ensemble Alarm Will Sound gave New York its first taste of The Hunger, a still in-progress theater piece that combines the ensemble with live singing by an Irish  sean nós singer and a mezzo-soprano, at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall on Saturday night, April 6.

We were mesmerized for all 45 minutes of urgent playing coupled with recordings of Irish sean nós singing and the keening of a mother for her dead child, along with and live singing by the extraordinary Rachel Calloway.

Calloway sang lyrics based on the first-hand accounts of the famine by the American nonconformist Asenath Nicholson, who spent two years in Ireland working with those dying of starvation. Her words in song are gripping, terrifying and urgent.

The piece is destined to be a full evening of performance by Alarm Will Sound, sean nós singer Iarla  Ó Lionáird and one of our very favorite mezzos, Dawn Upshaw. While Upshaw will likely put the finished work into an even higher category, we were mightily impressed with Calloway’s work on Saturday.

This taste leaves us starving to hear more.

While The Hunger was the marquee event of Saturday’s program, Alarm Will Sound got plenty of opportunity to show off its New Music chops in the first half, as well. The evening was intended to draw attention to the fact that the 12-year-old group, led by Alan Pierson (who also helms the Brooklyn Philharmonic), has amassed quite a bit of music written specifically for it.

One of its oldest commissions, David Lang‘s increase, composed in 2002, was the highlight of the first half. But the world premiere of the noisy, energetic Fly By Wire, by the suddenly ubiquitous Tyondai Braxton and New York premiere of Charles Wuorinen‘s Big Spinoff, were plenty of fun. Journeyman, composed by Alarm Will Sound’s pianist, John Orfe, also had its New York premiere Saturday.

New Music Bake Sale: Music, Conversation, Beer and, yes, actual baked goods!

Arturo en el Barco's Bake Sale table featured cupcakes and particularly tasty flan de queso. (Photos copyright 2010, Steven P. Marsh)

The 2nd Annual New Music Bake Sale took over the decrepitly beautiful Irondale Center’s space in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, on Saturday, Sept. 25 for more than six hours.

The concept was pretty simple: Bring together a bunch of people who make new music — performers, producers, record companies and the like — in a place where they can make music, talk about music, drink beer and sell sweet and savory baked goods to raise money for their efforts.

Kathleen Supové at her Bake Sale table.

We don’t know how successful the financial part of the evening was, but the place was constantly full of people and activity throughout the event. We sampled the food, beer and music and found it excellent — especially the Sixpoint Sweet Action!

Many of our favorite New Music folks were there throughout the evening, including, but hardly limited to, Todd Reynolds, Matt Marks, Mellissa Hughes, Courtney Orlando, Ken Thomson, Jessica Schmitz, Ted Hearne, David T. Little, Steven Swartz, Glenn Cornett, Franz Nicolay, Caleb Burhans, Kathleen Supové and Oscar Bettison.

Todd Reynolds and Ken Thomson perform Ken's "Storm Drain."

We can hardly wait for next year’s event.

But enough words. Let’s get to the images. Click through to the jump for more photos. Continue reading

New life for Matt Marks’ The Little Death

Composer Matt Marks and soprano Mellissa Hughes are Boy and Girl in the Incubator Arts Project presentation of The Little Death: Vol. 1 on Thursday, July 8. (Photos copyright 2010, Steven P. Marsh)

Something magical happened to Matt Marks‘ post-Christian nihilist pop opera The Little Death: Vol. 1, when it was preparing for its current staging at Incubator Arts Project at St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery. What had been a great collection of smart, sometimes silly, pop songs in the guise of a gently confusing pop opera has evolved into a smartly staged, well focused piece of musical theater.

The stars of the show sell lemonade and cookies before the performance.

While Marks’ excellent music provided the building blocks, director Rafael Gallegos has built a solid foundation and has cemented the building block  together to form an elegant theatrical environment for the Marks’ eerie love story.

A little less wholesome.

Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? was blown away (pun intended) by Thursday night’s premiere performance of the staged version. That’s quite a contrast to my reaction to the semi-staged version presented by Marks’ label, New Amsterdam Records, in March. Although I loved the sample- and hymn-heavy music, the overall feel of the piece left me a bit uneasy. It was hard to discern what Marks was trying to do. Was he making fun of Christianity or exploring the quirks and limitations of the faith context in which he was raised? Songs like “I Like Stuff,” are the types of catchy tunes that every producer wants in a musical — ones that the audience can easily hum on the way out of the theater. The lyrics are no less catchy, but that where things became a bit unsettling — when the singers compare liking hamsters and ice cream and rainbows to liking Jesus.

The piece uses recognizable samples and large chunks of Christian hymnody as the basis for some of its songs that loosely tell the story of a blossoming love affair between Boy (Marks) and Girl (soprano Mellissa Hughes), backed up by a four-member choir. Another thing that left me feeling uneasy in that early viewing was the fact that the story starts with Boy shooting Girl before time-traveling back to the start of their relationship. Marks describes Vol. 1 as “the first half of our story.”

The last temptation of Christ?

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