In 2010, Sean Friar wanted to write a concerto for car parts and orchestra.
So Mr. Friar, who admits a soft spot for wheels (“gorgeous, resonant”) and hubcaps played with a cello bow (“pure, crystalline sound”), grabbed everything he could find at a New Jersey junkyard, then brought his most melodious junk to an American Composers Orchestra workshop.
“I remember very vividly walking away from that first workshop, thinking, ‘Oh my God, that was one of the best musical experiences I’d ever had,’ ” said Mr. Friar, 28 years old.
The resulting piece, “Clunker Concerto,” is one of many unusual works that has come out of the American Composers Orchestra, an ensemble dedicated to performing and advocating for orchestral works by American composers, and creating a laboratory for musical risk-taking along the way.”
ARTIFICIALIST: A Disney Ending for LA Composers, December 18, 2013 by Damjan Rakonjac.
SEQUENZA 21: Four New Angeleno Composers — Performed at Disney Hall, December 6, 2013 by Paul Muller.
The first piece on the program was Little Green Pop by Sean Friar and the instrumentation consisted of piano, trombone, soprano and tenor saxes, electric guitar and percussion. This seemingly small assemblage produced an unexpectedly large sound, beginning with a run of light staccato tones that evolved into a series of louder chords. The quick tempo and syncopated rhythms were guided nicely by the precise and clear conducting of John Adams. The tones seem to pop out of the instruments, the harmonies and textures changing with almost every beat and this created a kind of pointillist construction of sound that was very effective. At other times, separate lines would pile together combining into a wonderful mash. Cymbals added an element of majesty and motion that eventually culminated in a great blast from the horns. Sustained and quiet tones followed, producing a moment of calm reflection before building again in tempo and volume and leading to a rousing finish. This was a work whose architecture delivered impressive constructions of sound from relatively small musical forces and Little Green Pop was received with enthusiastic applause.
LOS ANGELES TIMES: LA Phil tries something new with Green Umbrella concert: Review: New music by young composers took splendid risks from alien pop to pieces that bopped, December 4, 2013 by Mark Swed.
… “Little Green Pop” — for two saxophones, trombone, piano, percussion and electric guitar — deconstructs conventional pop formulas in bouncy, broken, suddenly excitable explosions bounding up scales and down and meant to evoke little green men at their most endearingly danceable.
NEWMUSICBOX: Music for Angelenos, by Angelenos, December 5, 2013 by Isaac Schankler.
Sean Friar’s Little Green Pop, originally written for Ensemble Klang, began with a series of poignant, resonant chords before breaking them apart, rendering them into more capricious, pointillistic textures meant to invoke the popular music of imaginary aliens.
LA WEEKLY: Four L.A. Classical Composers Converge at Disney Hall, November 29, 2013 by Christian Hertzog.
USC THORNTON SCHOOL OF MUSIC, Thornton Composition Faculty Andrew Norman and Sean Friar to be Featured at Disney Hall Performance, November 27, 2013.
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Two Men at the Piano: Alarm Will Sound with Contemporary Works at Frankfurt LAB, November 30, 2013 by Elizabeth Risch.
Elektronisch verstärkte akustische Instrumente prägten das Klangbild der Uraufführung von Sean Friars “In the Blue” (2013), das in jazzartigem Wechsel von Stereotypen und daraus ausbrechenden Formteilen die Bluenote in ihrer Ambivalenz zwischen Dur und Moll thematisierte.
ROLLING STONE: 12th Annual Bang on a Can Summer Festival Marathon, August 8, 2013 by Tristram Lozaw.
… the buoyant “Scale 9” which follows, a succinct “diagnostic measure of mania” by former BOAC fellow Sean Friar. The sextet’s blissed-out, give-and-take performance mirrors Friar’s obsessive subject matter.
SAN FRANCISCO CLASSICAL VOICE: Light Out of Dark at Cabrillo, August 4, 2013 by Be’eri Moalem
[In Noise Gate,] Friar sets the sounds of nature in fantastic wisps of harmonic clusters in ultrahigh strings and in abstract flutters from various corners of the orchestra. At the heart of the piece were amazing bird-call imitations, played artfully by the woodwind section…
SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS: REVIEW: Mason Bates’ ‘Alternative Energy’ at Cabrillo Festival, August 4, 2013 by Richard Scheinin.
More successful is the work that opened the program: Sean Friar’s “Noise Gate,” which received its world premiere and was commissioned by the festival.
Yet another soundscape, it evokes a hiker’s trek from urban Los Angeles to one of the nearby canyons, which are familiar to Friar (also a L.A. native). He has hit on something with this 10-minute tone poem: One hears the grating clank and buzz of city streets (lots of quarter-tone dissonances), all of which gradually dissolves through shimmery drones to a tapestry of silence. That silence becomes a frame for musical sounds that leap in and out of it. We hear birds, insects or nothing at all.
I’d like to hear “Noise Gate” again. The orchestra — especially the featured winds and percussion — gave real life to Friar’s imaginative score.
PENINSULA REVIEWS: Saturday Evening at the Cabrillo Festival, August 4, 2013 by Heather Morris.
In [Sean Friar’s] “Noise Gate” (2013) the cacophony of city noise melts away as the sounds of the natural environment come into prominence. In this, his first commission from the Cabrillo Festival, Los Angeles composer Sean Friar cleverly conjures up a soundscape taking us on a walk through a canyon outside LA where we escape the city sounds, and stop to listen to what replaces them. Sometimes there’s very little: there are moments, when, as Friar says, ‘nothing happens,’ and then there are moments when our ear retunes to the rustles, ripples and crackles of the natural world around us.
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE: Kuan a Fine Replacement for Injured Alsop at Cabrillo, August 4, 2013 by Joshua Kosman.
… there were other delights in the schedule as well…“Noise Gate,” a dexterous and evocative curtain-raiser commissioned by the festival from -year-old Sean Friar, had its world premiere in a sharply etched reading that brought out the piece’s central contrast between the hurly-burly of the city – rendered here in chugging chordal patterns that set up surprising cross-rhythms – and the still, sparsely inhabited sound world of the surrounding area.
MILWAUKEE MAG: The Once and Future Orchestra, May 25, 2013 by Paul Kosidowski.
The first half of the concert ended with the PM commission, Sean Friar’s “Breaking Point,” which took the guitar—with all its buzzy distortion and occasional feedback—as a starting point for a soundscape. It’s intense and driven, with hairpin turns as the other instruments—string quartet, clarinet, piano and percussion—jangle and clang along to the lead guitar’s riffs. It’s a wild ride.
EXPRESS MILWAUKEE: Present Music’s MULTITUDE of Great Performances, May 28, 2013 by John Schneider.
… Sean Friar, brilliant and even younger, took well-earned bows for his symphonic Breaking Point, commissioned by Reed and Nancy Groethe and the Present Music Commission Club and given a noisy, luscious, funny, triumphant premiere by this great ensemble under Stalheim’s conducting…
MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL: Present Music Ends Season with Delicious Fun, May 25, 2013 by Elaine Schmidt.
… The first half closed with ingenious instrumental mimicry, by way of Sean Friar‘s “Breaking Point,” in which all action swirls around an electric guitar. The piece, conducted by PM artistic director Kevin Stalheim, found the disparate sounds of clarinet, trumpet, cello, bass, violins, viola and piano echoing the timbres and effects produced by the guitar.
THIRD COAST DAILY: Present Music’s Wild Part of a Season Finale, May 25, 2013 by Tom Strini.
… Friar’s Breaking Point reflected the audacity of youth. Stalheim conducted an ensemble of nine through Friar’s 14-minute Breaking Point, in which [Derek] Johnson’s electric guitar had a starring role. … Friar’s astounding parade of grinding noises, noodling piano, hard Bop moments, foundry banging, virtuoso guitar runs, tick-tock pizzicati, electric guitar distortion, imitation of that distortion by the other instruments, metal percussion clangs, blues-tinged rave-ups in the strings and the wild rise to what everyone took for a climactic ending… The coda after that climactic false ending is a great musical joke, a musical sigh and a resigned laugh. We all know that moment — when we recognize that mountain for the molehill it is.
THIRD COAST DAILY: Sean Friar Among Present Music’s Multitude, May 23, 2013 by Tom Strini
… [FEATURE INTERVIEW]
PRUFROCK’S DILEMMA: The Life in Music – Percussionist Amy Garapic, May 14, 2013 by Susan Scheid
… [Discussion of performing Sean Friar’s Clunker Concerto]
I CARE IF YOU LISTEN: “Don’t Even” – Contemporaneous at P.S. 142 for Neighborhood Classics, February 15, 2013 by Sam Reising.
… Friar’s [Clunker Concerto] is powerfully engaging and incredibly fun, always balancing action between the percussion ensemble in the front and the chamber orchestra behind them. Friar does well to incorporate the odd aesthetic of the junk car into the rest of the ensemble, creating a solid piece of work full of rhythmic dynamism and an ever unfolding series of twists and turns.
CHICAGO READER: My Favorite Albums of 2012, January 16, 2013. By Peter Margasak.
#16. This young cellist boldly tackles a series of compositions that demand malleability in terms of technique, style, and musical thinking…
NEWMUSICBOX: Sounds Heard: Mariel Roberts – Nonextraneous Sounds, January 15, 2013. By Molly Sheridan.
Sean Friar’s Teaser … spins the music’s emotional character on a dime, mixing charming scraps of delicate tune work with fiery bombardments of sliding double stops and lines scratched across the instrument’s strings that might send a chill through you
TIMEOUT CHICAGO: Best Opera and Classical Albums of 2012, December 20, 2012. By Doyle Armbrust.
” The cellist’s chops are the new-music equivalent of awesomesauce, drenching vital scores by some of today’s most stylistically nimble young composers [including Sean Friar’s, “Teaser”.
RHAPSODY: Top 20 Classical Albums of 2012, December 13, 2012. By Seth Colter Walls.
#9. Mariel Roberts “Nonextraneous Sounds” [featuring Sean Friar’s “Teaser.”]
DENVER POST: Gift CDs: Fleming, Levingston, Roberts offer solid sounds from 2012, December 9, 2012. By Ray Mark Rinaldi.
Sean Friar’s “Teaser” offers varying good ideas and tauntingly refuses to follow through on them. It’s a video game you can’t win.
TIME OUT CHICAGO: Mariel Roberts, Nonextraneous Sounds – Album Review, November 15, 2012. By Doyle Armbrust.
FIVE STARS. … Roberts’s consummate “normale” classical chops are on display for Sean Friar’s tangentially blues-infused “Teaser.” Midway through the track, the Mivos Quartet member begins drawing out luminous overtones near the cello’s bridge, and even the scratch tones that follow emanate from a place of elegance rather than force.
WQXR: Q2 MUSIC ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Mariel Roberts, nonextraneous sounds, September 17, 2012. By Daniel Stephen Johnson.
The music on this disc, by a range of rising young composers, is nothing short of gripping from the first note to the last, and it’s thanks largely to the intense focus of these highly individual musicians… And while the repeated figures of Sean Friar’s Teaser metamorphose from classical cadence to rock riff and back again, he manages it without indulging in crossover-y cheapness.
TIME OUT NY: Mariel Roberts, September 17, 2012. By Sarah Hucal.
… her debut album, nonextraneous sounds, which consists of works written for Roberts by five of New York’s freshest young composers: Andy Akiho, Tristan Perich, Daniel Wohl, Sean Friar and Alex Mincek.
SEQUENZA 21: CD Reviews: Mariel Roberts, Nonextraneous Sounds , September 12, 2012. By Jay Batzner.
[Sean Friar’s] Teaser is a monster of a solo piece… Teaser moves into and out of interesting spaces quite effectively and, while it doesn’t go where I expect on first listen, its arrival points are always worth the trip.
OUTSIDE LEFT: Mariel Roberts, Nonextraneous Sounds , September 10, 2012. By Alex V. Cook.
Sean Friar’s neo-Romantic fever-dream Teaser…
AMERICAN ACADEMY IN ROME: Three Days of AAR Fellows in the Arts, 29-31 May 2012 , June 4, 2012. By Karl Kirchwey.
Sean Friar’s masterful and ingenious solo cello piece Teaser (2010)… was repeated with great success by cellist Francesco Dillon; the piece seems sure to become a standard in the solo cello literature.
AMERICAN ACADEMY IN ROME: Scharoun Ensemble Berlin AAR Concerts, March 13, 2012. By Karl Kirchwey.
[Teaser… is a major contribution to the solo cello literature… The Scharoun Ensemble also presented the world premiere of Friar’s One-Way Trip (2011-12), composed specifically for them and distilled out of events in the composer’s life as he prepared to leave the United States for Europe. Hugely ambitious, the piece is an octet for clarinet, horn, prepared piano and five strings; pianist Holger Groschopp also conducted the ensemble from the piano. Repeated melodic figures floated through a diaphanous harmonic texture, each section indeed a new sonic journey.]
EXPRESS MILWAUKEE: Present Music’s Around 30: The Dark Side of Turning 30, March 5, 2012. By John Schneider.
[The show’s high point was a terrific performance by dancer Christal Wagner… to a cock-eyed piece called “Little Green Pop” (2008), composed by Los Angeles native Sean Friar … This dance illuminated the music, and brought it and the audience to life.]
THIRD COAST DIGEST: Present Music’s Multimedia 30th birthday bash, March 4, 2012. By Tom Strini.
[The finale, Sean Friar’s Little Green Pop, brought all the musicians named above and trombonist David Lussier to the stage, with Stalheim conducting. This funny, energetic work motors along in rhythmic-metric high gear, except for a moonstruck moment of floating metal percussion about two-thirds of the way in. In the framing sections, all the elements sound familiar and conventional, like something you might hear on a lively TV soundtrack. But it’s all oddly displaced, as if the lines in the mix have been yanked this way and that.]
HERALD SCOTLAND: Psappha, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow, January 30, 2012. By Keith Bruce.
[… the craftsmanship of Sean Friar’s Scale 9 was undeniable…]
THE GUARDIAN & OBSERVER: LPO/Jurowski; Betrothal in a Monastery; Psappha ensemble; SCO/Ticciati – Review, January 29, 2012. By Fiona Maddocks.
[In a programme packed with new works, three Scotland-based composers featured alongside Americans Steve Reich – the Scottish premiere of his Double Sextet – and Sean Friar (b 1985), whose short, buzzy Scale 9 provided a euphoric opener.]
J. Simon Vanderwalt: Notes from a concert, January 26, 2012.
[Sean Friar’s Scale 9 which opened the programme was likeable and energetic, a sort of andante and allegro, or rather andante and blues, in a post- (very-post-) Gershwin vein.]
SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER: Three Centuries of Clarinet Music, January 24, 2012. By Stephen Smoliar.
[… compelling dramatism… there was definitely no shortage of Spinal Tap dynamics [in Sean Friar’s “Velvet Hammer”]
AMERICAN ACADEMY IN ROME: Bright Lights Shine for the Arts in Rome During Four Days in December, December 28, 2011.
[… an enthusiastic crowd gathered in the Salone for a recital by composer and Samuel Barber Rome Prize-winner Sean Friar and his partner, oboist Claire Brazeau. [It was] a program beautifully balanced between solo works for piano and oboe and duos. Friar himself performed his extremely demanding composition Elastic Loops, which the audience had heard present a significant challenge to soloist Marco Marzocchi during the Nuova Consonanza music marathon… in November.]
VULGO: Crashing Young Americans!, December 12, 2011. By Aisling Ryan.
[I got a real kick out of Sean Friar’s Velvet Hammer, not only as a piece in it’s own right, but as an opportunity to see guitarist John Godfrey move out of the chilled space of experimental guitar sounds and into the rough and tumble of rock guitar!]
THE SCORE: Review: Young Americans, Crash Ensemble, December 2, 2011. By Anna Murray.
THE IRISH TIMES: Crash Ensemble/Pierson, November 29, 2011. By Michael Dervan.
[Los Angeles-born Sean Friar’s insistently pulsing Velvet Hammer, for an ensemble featuring electric guitar, set out to create a kind of “super-electric guitar”. Friar even uses the other instruments as a kind trompe l’oreille in what came across as a sort of love statement about its central instrument.]
AMERICAN ACADEMY IN ROME: ‘Nuova Consonanza’ New Music Festival, Novembver 25, 2011. By Karl Kirchwey.
[Friar’s Short Winds, originally for wind quartet but transcribed here for the first time for saxophone quartet, was delightfully brash and seductive…]
I CARE IF YOU LISTEN:SONiC Festival – Ensemble Klang Brings More Rhythm Than the Upper West Side Can Handle, October 21, 2011. By Thomas Deneuville.
[Sean Friar’s Little Green Pop was particularly impressive at drawing out the capacity of the ensemble to blend. The accents in this piece felt… like springtime bursting out…]
AMERICAN ACADEMY IN ROME: Contemporary Music Festival Brings Capacity Crowd to the Sala Aurelia, October 4, 2011. By Karl Kirchwey.
[Sean Friar’s Teaser (2010) for solo cello, an extraordinary exploration of that instrument’s potential…]
SLATE MAGAZINE: Horns, harps, and hubcaps: The classical orchestra needs some new instruments, July 19, 2011. By J. Bryan Lowder.
[Friar’s Clunker Concerto came off sounding both refreshingly new and solidly mature… Friar was able to throw open the windows of the orchestral attic, allowing fresh sounds and a wonderfully unexpected musical perspective to rejuvenate the old form… This is orchestral music that anyone can appreciate. Its dialect is new and exciting, but also familiar, rooted in the funky grooves and rock sensibility of our era. It doesn’t take on airs, but instead takes joy in the process of discover – in the continual experience of suspense and surprise – that good classical music has always championed.”
ALL MUSIC: NOW Ensemble, AWAKE: REVIEW. By Stephen Eddins
[The music… conveys an infectious optimism that’s worlds apart from both the angst-y complexity that long characterized contemporary classical composition and the nostalgic, reactionary return to old-fashioned tonality… Even the more dissonant and timbrally piercing tracks like Sean Friar‘s Velvet Hammer … seem to be undergirded essentially with that kind of positive energy.]
SYMPATICO AUTOS: Symphony played on scrap car parts
… [Clunker Concerto] opens with the disassembly of a mocked-up old car. Its hubcaps, fenders and brakes are picked up by the musicians and used as instruments – bows drawn across them, mallets used to strike them – and the sound is simply stunning…”
POP MATTERS: NOW Ensemble – Awake / Chiara String Quartet/Matmos – Jefferson Friedman Quartets, June 27, 2011
… if an album like Awake is of any indication of future potential, we are in for some downright masterpieces.
EMUSIC: NOW Ensemble Awake, June 2011, Seth Colter Walls.
Note the holy disquiet announced by a piercing flute that Sean Friar stretches over grandly sustained piano-poundings during his “Velvet Hammer.” (And be sure to hang around for the piece’s kinetic, whirling final seconds.) Anyone want to call that soft?”
TEXTURA: NOW Ensemble: Awake
… the album’s material is constantly engrossing, regardless of whether it’s pensive (“Awake”) or aggressive (“Velvet Hammer”).
COMPULSIVE READER: Chamber Music of Memory and Mischief: NOW Ensemble, Awake, June 24, 2011.
… [Velvet Hammer] seems a fusion of classical music and rock, and possibly, distantly, jazz. Even with its tumult, it seems demanding, experimental – and classical: one hears the control of instrumentation and effect, the designed and extended patterns.
TIMEOUT CHICAGO: NOW Ensemble – Awake | Album Review, June 21, 2011
… David Crowell, Missy Mazzoli and Sean Friar are savvy choices to complete an album.
BOSTON GLOBE: Lush Landscapes, Majestic Motifs, Shifting Strings, June 19, 2011
All [the pieces on “Awake”] make for involving listening… Sean Friar’s “Velvet Hammer” and Missy Mazzoli’s “Magic with Everyday Objects” veer precipitously between gentle melody and bursts of distorted guitar … It’s tough to shoehorn the music on “Awake” into traditional categories, but it doesn’t matter: Here is an album that offers a lot of engaging new music.”
SILENT BALLET: NOW Ensemble – Awake, June 2, 2011
… as this spectacular opening topples into Sean Friar’s Velvet Hammer, a frantic, shrieking Hitchcockian descent into madness, the listener becomes convinced that Awake is something special.
ALARM PRESS, This Week’s Best Albums, April 26, 2011
[… a distant touch of dark, distorted guitar and ominous accents complement “Velvet Hammer” … and perhaps future albums by NOW Ensemble will share traits with more of the New Amsterdam roster.]
BANGKOK POST, Eloquent Collection of Contemporary Pieces, April 18, 2011
… there is much to marvel at in the variety of timbres and moods [Sean Friar] gets from [repeated notes and chords], from woodpeckerish tappings to ringing peals to pounding attacks, all in six or so kaleidoscopic minutes.
WQXR, Q2 Album of the Week, April 18, 2011
… the haunting whirlwind of Sean Friar’s Velvet Hammer…”
NEW YORK TIMES, American Composers Orchestra Review, March 8, 2011. By Vivien Schweizer.
Musicians have time to perfect unusual procedures like those in Sean Friar’s [lively] “Clunker Concerto,” where the percussionists elicit pitches from a car fender and also bow hubcaps and other parts found in a scrap yard.”
Playing it UNsafe Composer Journeys: Sean Friar Part 1
Playing it UNsafe Composer Journeys: Sean Friar Part 3 – Handing Off the Junk
Sean Friar, Clunker Concerto Composer, on Andrew Andrew Sound Sound on East Village Radio
Playing it UNsafe Composer Journeys: Sean Friar Part 2 – Auditioning Textures
Nominees for the Gaudeamus Prize 2011