The audio of the premiere of my first symphony by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra conducted by Benjamin Northey on October 25, 2013 at the QSO Studio, Southbank, Brisbane. It was commissioned by Kim Williams AM.
News from jazz & classical pianist/composer Mark Isaacs
Friday, February 28, 2014
Sunday, August 04, 2013
You Never Forget Love video
Thursday, May 16, 2013
"Children's Songs" released on Soundbrush May 14
More information and ordering here.
Tuesday, April 02, 2013
Children's Songs videos
Two videos Soundbrush Records made for my upcoming solo piano release Children's Songs.
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
You Never Forget Love
I'm delighted to have added vocalist Briana Cowlishaw to the new (yet unreleased) Resurgence recording Duende in - amongst other tracks - this song which is also my public debut as lyricist.
"Children's Songs" on Soundbrush
My solo piano CD Children's Songs will be released internationally in May on New York label Soundbrush. More information here.
Sunday, November 18, 2012
A recent performance of my composition Serenade for orchestra by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra conducted by Benjamin Northey. I'm writing a symphony for them next year.
Saturday, September 29, 2012
"The Wind in the Willows" video clip
The video clip for "The Wind in the Willows" suite I composed for CD release on Hush Music.
Friday, December 09, 2011
Reminder to myself
I'd say the required ingredients for real achievement in the arts are inspiration, talent, skill, industriousness and an unwillingness to be cowed by orthodoxies (without creating or adhering to an even more stifling counter-orthodoxy, the political analogue of which George Orwell so brilliantly articulated in "Animal Farm").
Diatribe of the day
Monday, November 21, 2011
Article on Resurgence Band
An article I wrote for Resonate magazine about the musical and morphological underpinnings of the Resurgence Band.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Adelaide Review article
A preview article about my recital in the 2012 Adelaide Festival
Thursday, October 20, 2011
Adelaide Festival recital
I will be doing a solo recital in the Adelaide Festival on March 5, including new works composed especially for the Festival. More information here.
Friday, September 16, 2011
Some bootleg footage of the Mark Isaacs Resurgence Band - an excerpt from the song "Will-o'the-wisp" - taken by a fan at the very last concert on our May/June 2011 Australian tour at the Sound Lounge in Sydney
Wednesday, July 06, 2011
After the big May/June Resurgence Band Australian tour the rest of 2011 will be devoted almost exclusively to composing. My projects begin with a cello concerto and hopefully moving onto a new suite of solo piano music.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
extempore review of Aurora
You can read it here
Jazz Bell Awards finals
Nominations for the Australian Jazz Bell Awards 2011 have been announced. The Resurgence Band's CD Aurora is one of three finalists for Best Australian Jazz Blend Album and the Resurgence Band is also one of three finalists for Best Australian Jazz Ensemble. Winners announced at the awards ceremony in Melbourne May 5.
Wednesday, March 09, 2011
New review of Aurora at AllAboutJazz
Thursday, February 10, 2011
International review for Aurora
Review of Aurora at AllAboutJazz by respected critic John Kelman can be read here
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Thursday, January 20, 2011
The launch of the new Resurgence Band CD/DVD Aurora is coming up soon.
When: Saturday January 29, 8:30pm-11:00pm
Where: Sound Lounge, Seymour Centre, Sydney
Bookings: tel: 9351 7940 or book online
The CD which features a brand new repertoire and a Bonus DVD of Tell It Like It Is is available online for $29.95 with free postage or will be for sale at the launch.
Also to let you know that I will be doing some trio gigs in the next few weeks with Brett Hirst and Tim Firth. Look out for us as Kinetic Jazz in Enmore Wed Jan 27, at 505 in Surry Hills Wed Feb 9 and at the Walsh Bay Jazz Festival Fri Feb 18.
Friday, January 14, 2011
Friday, December 17, 2010
Composition prize and Composer-in-Residence
Just received a "Highly Commended" in the Jean Bogan Prize for Piano Composition from the University of Newcastle. Also heard today I have the position of Composer-in-Residence at North Sydney Girls High School. Impressive music program at this school. The students will be studying my works for their matriculation exams. It will be exciting helping them look at them and nurturing their own compositional forays.
Monday, December 13, 2010
You can read what I wrote for extempore about my favourite musical experiences of 2010 .
Saturday, December 04, 2010
Aurora liner notes
You’re now holding in your hands two recordings by the Resurgence Band.
In 2009 we released the live CD Tell It Like It Is recorded at a concert in Sydney. That show was filmed for video and we have included it here as a Bonus DVD, effectively re-releasing the album with the pictures. Then in 2010 we went into the studio to record this latest project Aurora. You can compare if you like the natures of the quite different beasts that are studio and live recordings. With the Aurora release I have also rekindled my own label Gracemusic.
I’m often asked “Why ‘Resurgence’?”. In the simplest terms, it goes back to a 2006 recording I made in Los Angeles with guitarist James Muller and a collection of American heavyweights including drummer Vinnie Colaiuta. The song Resurgence from that CD became the album’s title track and soon it became the name of the all-Australian band I formed in the wake of its release – with James Muller again a key player - for touring in Australia and Asia. But words mean quite specific things. Beyond the prosaic explanation of its genesis as the band name, “resurgence” resonates in another way for me that goes right to the nub of this work and the changing role of music in general in our society over the last 30-40 years.
I consider myself lucky that my years as an adolescent completely passionate about being a musician, and then as an emerging professional artist in my late teens and early 20s were all during the 1970s. It was a period when stunning new instrumental music captured the imagination of young people who were looking for something else in contemporary music other than the “popular song” vocal format (whether truly “pop” or “alternative”). Bands like Mahavishnu, Return to Forever, Weather Report and the ‘Belonging’ band as well as progressive rock artists like Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Yes in which vocals were not necessarily the main game made brilliant, virtuosic and challenging – yet accessible – music. Melody was still king and in one way or another the music was “romantic” rather than overwhelmingly cerebral or looking over its shoulder at the confines of one particular genre for its credibility.
The word fusion was coined, and it remains quite a usable one. Jazz fused with rock, classical fused with rock, classical fused with jazz, “world music” fused with all of them and simultaneously an ambient and minimalist instrumental style took root as a place for all to go. It was instrumental music that was challenging without being arcane, melodic without being about nothing else, virtuosic while still lyrical and it employed traditional as well as the newer instruments and recording technologies. All this was started by the artists themselves and their audiences rather than a record company marketing exercise, and was driven from the ground up by a generation that simply wanted to engage with it.
Then came the 1980s and the multinational record companies managed to sideline what had been a truly free exercise of individual musical choice by a deluge of marketing and manufactured celebrity. The blinds of a window through which the sun had briefly shone seemed to be drawn and this music ended up trapped in the shadows. New alternative popular song forms arose but were corporatized and warehoused quickly. Instrumental music (apart from the blandest pop instrumentals) didn’t get much of a look in since there was now no template passed down by those who had once felt the flame for instrumental music as a way to make sense of it all.
So, I strive with others toward a resurgence of this lost legacy as a broadly social – rather than fringe - activity. I’m encouraged in this endeavour by seeing the number of music lovers across all generations who are showing up at our performances.
And as even the niche record labels – being mostly distributed by the multinational corporations - cast off artists in droves and feel unable to sign new ones, with Gracemusic I join those musicians who are harnessing new media in bypassing those corridors to engage directly with you.
I will let the actual music speak for itself. I’ll just say that if you are willing to listen (or watch) your way right through the disks without interruption – a way of approaching an album that is becoming less common - there will be aspects of their construction and flow that can only be appreciated thus.
I’d like to once again thank James, Matt, Brett and Tim for their truly awesome playing and for being such great company on the road, in rehearsal and in the studio. Thanks to all the production team but especially star engineer Richard Lush who back in the day recorded Sgt. Peppers with The Beatles and who suffered a crippling health blow recently that saw him record and mix Aurora in a wheelchair, just out of rehab and smiling all the time (here’s to your full recovery mate). I’d like to thank Roen Davis for undertaking the filming and editing of the DVD, he is one of those who still remembers clearly. Pianist and composer Tim Stevens has been the one esteemed musical colleague who has befriended me in such a way that we share our thoughts about music and life on an almost daily basis and I thank him for that blessing. And last - and obviously not least - I am grateful beyond words to my adorable wife Jewel whose beautiful painting graces the cover, just as she herself graces everything I do that is truly worthwhile.
Sydney, November 2010
You can watch some of the videos of the Mark Isaacs Resurgence Band from the DVD Tell It Like It Is (a bonus DVD with new CD Aurora) here.
Monday, November 29, 2010
Sunday, October 24, 2010
My recently-composed flute sonatina was just broadcast on ABC Classic FM in Australia. It was commissioned by the terrific Australian flautist Melissa Doecke who plays it here; I accompany her at the piano. It's in 3 movements, a 12-minute listen if you'd like to take the time out to listen from the player below.
Monday, October 11, 2010
Collaboration with Sachal Vasandani
I'm looking forward to collaborating on Thursday October 21 at the Brisbane Jazz Festival with New York vocalist Sachal Vasandani (pictured). Sachal was named "Rising Star" in the 2010 Annual Downbeat Critic’s Poll.
As well as Sachal's material we'll be doing the debut of a vocal version of my song You Never Forget Love from the Resurgence Band CD Tell It Like It Is. I recently wrote lyrics to it.
Friday, August 20, 2010
New trio performance, Sat Sep 4 in Sydney
More information here
Sunday, August 15, 2010
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Comeback of legendary engineer
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
New Resurgence Band recording
The new album by the band is mixed. Release date TBA but likely some months. We recorded at the premier recording facility in the Southern Hemisphere Studios 301 with legendary engineer Richard Lush who started his career at Abbey Road, London working on many Beatles albums including Sgt. Peppers. The band members really brought my compositions to life, fantastic musicians.
Wednesday, June 09, 2010
June performances and recording
I've been lying low for a while and practising hard at the piano toward my June performances and recording. Lennie Tristano has been as inspiration for linear fluency, Eckhart Tolle for spiritual nourishment. Given up coffee and taken up the treadmill for exercise again.
The Resurgence Band is playing at the Sound Lounge in Sydney on Saturday June 19 and 26. On June 28 we go into Studios 301 to record a new CD, a whole new repertoire of songs which we will play at the gigs.
I am also do trio performances on Friday June 18 at 505 in Sydney and Sunday June 20 at Bennetts Lane in Melbourne.
I've also had a chance to share some time with a couple of jazz masters like Dale Barlow and Chuck Yates, just playing together for the spirit of it. What a wonderful antidote to some of the inevitable loneliness in these kinds of periods.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Bell Jazz Awards
I had a nice time in Melbourne last Thursday night attending the Bell Jazz Awards where my composition Minsk was nominated for Best Jazz Song. It didn't win but the same song is also a finalist in the jazz category of the International Songwriting Competition with the winner being announced April 28. The judges there are John Scofield and McCoy Tyner so it will be interesting to see how they rate my work! If you haven't heard the piece you can listen here.
Monday, March 29, 2010
My life with Sibelius
Opening Sibelius music notation software has become like sitting down with the closest and most intimate of friends. I take real joy simply in the time spent together as well as what the relationship generously offers and produces.
As a young adolescent, Sibelius - this time I mean the monumental Finnish composer - also felt like a deep and close confidant as I immersed myself in my recordings of his symphonies. Part of the pleasure in merely opening this splendid software is hearing a short excerpt from one of those symphonies beautifully rendered as it starts itself up (let's face it, software sounds are more normally of the boink, klonk, zing variety!).
I was bitten with the bug to write music in early 1971 at the age of 12. I would spend many of my school holidays writing down my compositions - for orchestra, chamber music and piano music. In those days I used black ink. There was no corrector fluid available and so to make a correction you'd paste a cutout piece of manuscript over the changed bar or scrape the offending notes away with one of Dad's razor blades and then deal with the irritation of newly-applied ink that feathered out chaotically on the lacerated microsurface of the paper.
One day in early 1975 at the age of 16 having put in weeks of solid work writing down an extended and quite intricate work for flute and piano, I went out with my parents and brother and left the score on my desk which lived under a window which was unfortunately on this occasion left open. While we were gone it rained heavily; the wind blew hard and the water fell from the heavens in a diagonal trajectory. Upon my return I went to my desk and found my score in a puddle and my careful notation blotted into what looked like the results of a Rorschach test. Certainly the psychological impact of this inky mess needed to be speedily evaluated. Like the score, I too was a mess and as much as I was impelled by a unshakeable desire to preserve my musical thoughts for posterity I also could not imagine doing all that work again. Thanks to the sympathetic but tough love of my mother - who said either do what is necessary no matter how hard or otherwise live with a stillborn piece - I knuckled down and did indeed do it all again. I'm sure that is why I now have multiple and automated backup routines, with my work living on two hard drives in my house and simultaneously on two separate servers in a "cloud" from which rain no longer spitefully falls.
In my twenties as well as continuing to write my concert pieces I began to churn out music for film and television, initially doing orchestrations for film composer Simon Walker who was something of a child prodigy in that particular field. He is a few years younger than me and when I orchestrated his music for a major miniseries screened nationally on Australian TV and he stood up in front of an orchestra of seasoned professionals in the recording studio to conduct it, he was only 18. Later I went on to write my own scores for film and TV.
At this point I was producing reams of finished manuscript a month and taking a lead from Simon's example I adopted some upgraded notational tools. In the first place his design of a sketch pad to have on the piano stand while composing I use to this day (I still do my initial creative work at the piano). Each page has 3 systems of 4 staves, each divided into four bars of generous width allowing you to sketch out reasonably complex music in what is called short score (for example, in orchestral music the string parts may be summarised on the bottom two staves with the wind and brass parts in composite on the top two).
Simon also convinced me to give up using ink and write my scores in pencil so that they could be corrected with an eraser. He shared the benefit of his research and told me that a B pencil was the best choice: dark enough for prominent readability and good strong photocopies yet light enough to be rubbed out with fairly clean results. To this day as well as his sketch pad format I always have a big box of B pencils for sketching. Plus a large eraser as well as a narrow extendable one for targeting only the required notes for excision.
When it came to writing the actual finished scores on big sheets in pencil, I hated ruling up all the very many long barlines (with breaks for each subgroup of instruments) and occasionally managed to find ways to farm this job out to a sympathetic young girl who would later marry me. I began to purchase pre-ruled and labelled manuscript papers that could be bought in various instrumental groupings from Barlow Music in the Sydney suburb of Concord.
The final accoutrement I adopted from Simon was a large architects' drafting stand that stood on my desk and sloped 45 degrees so that I wouldn't have to crouch down over a flat surface to write and thus suffer neck and shoulder pain from the 16-hour days I would often do.
Armed with all these tools and templates I pumped out score after score for the screen and concert hall. I became more and more speedy and industrious and was proud of the large callus that developed on my right hand second finger from the rubbing of my B pencil. It seemed like a battle wound.
These working methods served me until quite recently. While I loved my computers it just didn't seem right to involve these machines in producing my scores. I clung to my rituals: they seemed honourable and organic. I did have the luxury of copyists producing the instrumental parts from the score. Initially they worked by hand and later with music notation software. When they started using the software it seemed like their tool, not mine. It made sense for copyists to use the programs, but for me to work with my traditional tools. Or that's what I thought then.
Now my life has changed: I am a dedicated and passionate user of Sibelius. Like many people, I'd never bought any high end serious software before. Maybe a few shareware utilities and a basic accounting program. Some desktop publishing gear. So as well as the sheer power of the program I was not prepared for the level of nurturing support that followed my purchase of Sibelius 5.
Sibelius telephone technical support was a joy after the scantily-informed IT call centre support I'd experienced to date. Here were people who knew the program intimately and also deeply understood what I was trying to achieve. I was nearly beside myself in my early novice days when technical support offered to "show" me what they meant. Next thing I was clicking on a window that popped open on my screen and my computer was taken over by the consultant as my mouse pointer ran around the screen and did things at his bidding while the friendly voice on the telephone explained them.
I have become a regular user of the online Sibelius technical forum where power users will patiently answer any question - often within minutes of posting - and the redoubtable UK-based senior product manager and Sibelius guru Daniel Spreadbury offers his wisdom on almost every thread as well as replying personal emails promptly and in detail. It really is a fantastic community - indeed something of a family - and I feel like I am in safe and nurturing hands in such a way that I have never experienced with any other commercial operation and its fellow customers. I now am sometimes myself helping other users on the forum as I was (and am) helped.
So how has Sibelius changed my composing life and what do I love about it? Let me count just some of the ways:
1. My scores can be constantly revised, a process which I avoided previously because of its sheer impracticality.
2. The program works with me to automatically produce beautiful scores that look engraved. This is approaching the sublime now with the implementation of Magnetic Layout whereby objects automatically move around to place themselves optimally and avoid collisions. It's a miracle to witness. Almost all the time the program does what I want automatically as I feed it the notes, rhythms, articulations, dynamics and other information that make up a score. Very occasionally I show it what I want the result to be through simple and intuitive commands.
3. The instrumental parts are embedded in the score and update as the score updates or is revised, but can have their specific layout tweaked without affecting the score.
4. Sibelius playback is now of sufficient quality to render very acceptable synthetic demos of my pieces that I can send to players and colleagues in advance of the actual performance. These "demos" also give me an enhanced sense of satisfaction and achievement in my work upon its completion and while I wait for the real thing. The sounds that come with Sibelius are already excellent but there is a whole world of "virtual instruments" out there should one wish to go further. Playback has begun to assist my writing process: I used to play my pieces through at the piano to judge their overall shape and how they flowed, but with difficult music not written for the piano the playing itself was challenging and thus commandeered part of the mind toward the actual rendition rather than it being wholly free for critical judgement. Now I can hit Play and step back like an artist viewing a large work on a wall to see what it might need.
5. Though I've only done it once so far, I know that on occasion when I am sketching at the piano I can leave a particular strand of my music till later and compose it directly into the computer if I wish. Even phrase by phrase with instant playback all the while.
6. As well as the demos I can quickly produce PDFs of my scores to share. Musicians can print out their parts at home.
7. Sibelius has inspired me to buy a 27" monitor to have serious screen acreage for my scores. Now I want a 30" screen that swivels from landscape to portrait for orchestral scores that need to be much longer than they are wide.
8. I don't need copyists routinely any more. Some of them did great work - and some of them were careless and didn't do fine proofing. Now I am responsible for what the musicians see.
9. Sibelius listens to suggestions from users and the program is constantly in development such that I cannot wait to see what version 7 will be like. Just moving from version 6.0 to 6.1 offered enhancements that were jaw-dropping in a free point upgrade.
Speaking of suggestions I actually have a dream for the future that commonly available technology will need just a little more time to catch up to. It is prompted by the fact that the callus on my finger is subsiding and the only evidence of my former artisanship are the piles of handwritten scores in the cupboard. I feel sad that I am gradually forgetting the skill I once had in rendering music by hand. Input into Sibelius is easy and there are a number of methods to do so. But handwriting would be the ideal way for me and many others, and would be super fast.
About the only piece of technology that I get passionate about apart from Sibelius is my iPhone. It is just so intuitive to eschew pointing devices, buttons and other ways of communicating with an operating system and simply use contact with the screen itself as we saw foreshadowed some years ago in the movie "Minority Report". The touch screen iPad is about to be launched and Dell has a small touch screen desktop on the market. You can in fact buy a touch screen overlay for any size screen though they are rare and prohibitively expensive for larger size screens.
I am hoping that 5 years from now there will be 30" touch screens for the desktop commonly available that can sit at a 45 degree angle like my old architects' stand. And that with stylus in hand I will write my music once again but directly into Sibelius which will have adopted this as another possible input method and will quantise my music handwriting into the program's own beautiful engraving.
That would be a kind of full circle on a 40-year journey from my rained-on score at my parents' house (I'll still be backing up my scores like crazy regardless of the weather!). More of a helix than a circle really as it would be another dimension entirely of music "handwriting", indeed it would be a kind of direct electronic engraving.
I'm hoping Daniel Spreadbury might be thinking along these lines too.
String sextet, other compostitions and solo jazz program
My Sextet for strings which was composed under the terms of the Albert H. Maggs Composition Award from the University of Melbourne was premiered by the Australia Ensemble in their first subscription concert for 2010 last Saturday night. The team consisted of some of the finest string players in Australia including members of the Goldner String Quartet and principals from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra: violins - Dene Olding and Dimity Hall, violas - Irina Morozova and Yvette Goodchild, cellos - Catherine Hewgill and Nathan Waks. The piece was warmly received by the audience. The concert will be broadcast nationally in Australia at 8pm this Wednesday March 31 on ABC Classic FM. It can be heard live on the Internet here (convert that previous date and time from Australia Eastern Summer Time to your time zone)
On Friday April 9 at 9pm on ABC Radio National my composition Chinkon for bass koto will be broadcast in a program called Rhythm Divine featuring Australian virtuoso koto player Satsuki Odamura. Hear it on the Web here at that time AEST.
Finally on the premiere front, my guitar quartet Autumnal Dances will be premiered at Llewellyn Hall, Canberra on Sunday April 11 in a concert beginning at 3pm that will also be broadcast live on ABC Classic FM and streamed on the Web here.
In other composition news my Sonatine for flute and piano was recorded for broadcast for ABC Classic FM by flautist Melissa Doecke and myself along with the Dutilleux Sonatine, Poulenc Sonata, some duo improvisations and a Brett Dean solo piece Demons. Will post an update when the program is broadcast.
Not neglecting jazz, a program of jazz solo piano I recorded for digital radio station and Web platform ABC Jazz was recently broadcast and can be streamed here.