Music

Taos composer travels abroad to debut new piece dedicated to a late friend

By Rick Romancito
tempo@taosnews.com
Posted 10/16/19

No, "Telesthesia" is not some kind of obscure affliction. It's the title of a piece Taos composer Richard Cameron-Wolfe wrote and dedicated to his beloved friend, Total Arts Gallery owner, artist and musician Harold Geller.

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Music

Taos composer travels abroad to debut new piece dedicated to a late friend

Posted

No, "Telesthesia" is not some kind of obscure affliction. It's the title of a piece Taos composer Richard Cameron-Wolfe wrote and dedicated to his beloved friend, Total Arts Gallery owner, artist and musician Harold Geller.

In February, Cameron-Wolfe received a commission to write a piece for the Belgian ensemble Assai Cello Quartet, a press announcement reads. In March, Geller, his friend of 45 years, passed away. Cameron-Wolfe decided to fulfill the commission with a work memorializing Geller, and the music -- titled "Telesthesia" -- was just completed and sent to the musicians, who will premiere it Oct. 27 in the Netherlands.

Cameron-Wolfe said 2019 has already been his busiest year as a composer since moving to Taos permanently in 2002. He has been composing four new works and having performances and premieres in New York City and Los Angeles, as well as abroad in New Zealand, Siberia, Austria and Ukraine. His most recent composition, "Passionate Geometries," will be recorded in the fall and will appear on a New Focus CD featuring the Gunnar Berg Ensemble of Salzburg.

"First I'm going to Belgium and the Netherlands, and that's where the piece that I dedicated to Harold is going to be premiered," Cameron-Wolfe said over the cacophony of a very busy local coffeehouse Wednesday (Oct. 9). "Then, after that -- I've been going back and forth to Ukraine now for about eight or nine years, and it actually started in the '80s when I started going to Russia."

Ukraine is very much in the news these days, figuring prominently in the impeachment inquiry launched against Republican President Donald J. Trump after a whistleblower filed a complaint alleging Trump may have urged Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch an investigation involving a political opponent during an August phone call.

"The Ukraine situation is very, very interesting, especially in the context of their splitting away at the end of the Soviet era," he said. "Lots of young musicians who have no interest in the old Soviet models of art, this cultural committee that would prefer that you write a symphony celebrating the guy who drives the tractor through the farm rather than anything psychological. They're very savvy about using YouTube, for example, to catch up on what's going on in contemporary classical -- I don't even like that term, I just call it 'sound art' -- contemporary just has too much baggage. But they know what's going on in Italy and France and Germany in terms of contemporary avant-garde."

The premiere of his cello quartet will officially be in Tilburg, Netherlands, at Stichting Het Cenakel, a former monastery chapel, performed by the Belgian ensemble Assai Cellokwartet, consisting of Shuya Tanaka, Koen Berger, Helena Fuertes Plata and Johanna Peiler.

"'Telesthesia' was composed for Assai," Cameron-Wolfe said. "The program also includes the premiere of Dutch composer Jo Sporck's 'Switch' and two works of J.S. Bach: the Cello Suite No. 2 and Laszlo Varga's quartet transcription of the Chaconne. Many thanks to my dear friend Jo Sporck for producing this event."

Now, about that title. "Telesthesia" is a real thing, kind of. Its dictionary definition describes it as "the supposed perception of distant occurrences or objects by means other than the known senses," something reportedly studied extensively by Russia and United States spy agencies during the Cold War.

But, for the musical piece, Cameron-Wolfe wanted a title that asked, "Are you here?" As if to inquire if the spirit of his friend might be listening. So, he thought, "Why don't I just use an obscure word that means about the same thing … It's this idea that maybe Harold or some aspect of Harold's consciousness does continue to view goings on on this earthly plane. Such as it is."

He said his friendship with Geller began in the early summer of 1974 "when, as I was just passing through Taos, I found myself performing on an 'American Music' lecture at the Harwood Library, a lecture which Harold attended."

Geller, a Canadian painter and violinist, had opened his Total Arts Gallery a few years before that, featuring not only the visual arts, but also poetry readings (back then he also sold poetry books/journals) and informal chamber music concerts with local musicians. During the peak years of Taos international tourism, Geller represented many of the finest artists of the region, as well as "outsiders" and foreign artists.

"In late summer of 1974, Harold and I joined with composer Noel Farrand to organize Friends of American Music, which presented chamber music concerts in various Taos venues for many years thereafter. Noel was the 'dreamer'; I was fresh out of grad school; Harold was the voice of reason," Cameron-Wolfe said.

He and Geller also became co-directors with Farrand of the ambitious 1978-82 New Mexico Music Festival at Taos. Geller engaged various Taos artists to provide images for the festival posters, designed the posters and sold them through his Total Arts Gallery.

Cameron-Wolfe was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and received his music training at Oberlin College and Indiana University. His principal piano teachers were Joseph Battista and Menahem Pressler; his composition teachers included Bernard Heiden, Iannis Xenakis, Juan Orrego-Salas and John Eaton.

After brief teaching engagements at Indiana University, Radford College (Virginia), and the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, Cameron-Wolfe moved to New York City, where he performed and composed for several major ballet and modern dance companies, including the Joffrey Ballet and the José Limón Company. He began his 23-year career at Purchase College in 1978, teaching music theory and history, composition and music resources for choreographers.

Since 2002, he has dedicated his life to the piano and to composing.

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