Parallels and Confluence: Bugang and Pasig Rivers

Composer Susie Ibarra shares thoughts on the inaugural commission of the Kaisahan Initiative that will receive it’s world premiere performance on April 7.

This piece is composed influenced by the style of a Kundiman structure, a Pilipinx love song structure most often sung in Tagalog. Traditionally a Kundiman is a flowing love song that is composed in ¾ meter and has parallel verses; first in minor, and then its second verse in the parallel Major scale.

Pasig and Bugang are two major inlet rivers in the Philippines, which flow along many communities in the islands but yet they are so very different. Pasig, known to flow along the capital city, Manila, on Luzon Island, is one of the most polluted rivers in the Philippines. Bugang river is situated in the north of Panay Island in the town of Pandan Antique, is known to be the cleanest river inlet in the Philippines.  This love song touches on the parallels of these rivers and the beautiful life along both of these confluences of larger waters.  Pasig connects both maritime and fresh water of Laguna Bay and Manila Bay as well as other tributaries floating out to the Taguig River eventually.  Bugang connects northern Panay Pennisula National Park and  5 municipalities and Bugang Bay in Panay Island.  These parallel river cultures and communities are the inspiration for the love song embodied in the piano quintet.

Guest Artists

Susie Ibarra, composer and percussion

Susie Ibarra is a Filipinx composer, percussionist, and sound artist. Her interdisciplinary practice spans formats, including performance, mobile sound-mapping applications, multi-channel audio installations, recording, and documentary. Many of Ibarra’s projects are based in cultural and environmental preservation: she has worked to support Indigenous and traditional music cultures, such musika katatubo from the North and South Philippine islands; her sound research advocates for the stewardship of glaciers and freshwaters; and she collaborates with The Joudour Sahara Music Program in Morocco on initiatives that preserve sound-based heritage with sustainable music practices and support the participation of women and girls in traditional music communities.

She is a recipient of the Foundation For Contemporary Arts Award in Music/ Sound (2022), a National Geographic Storytelling Fellowship (2020); United States Artists Fellowship in Music (2019); the Asian Cultural Council Fellowship (2018); and a TED Senior Fellowship (2014).  

Susie Ibarra is a Yamaha, Vic Firth, and Zildjian Drum Artist.

Her album, Talking Gong (New Focus Recordings 2021), features soloists and ensemble members Claire Chase (bass, alto , flute and piccolo) and Alex Peh (piano) , with its title piece commissioned by SUNY New Paltz when Ibarra was Davenport Composer in Residence 2018. The album is inspired by traditional Filipino southern gong music, Maguindanaon kulintang music and by birdsongs of the region.

Water Rhythms: Listening to Climate Change (2020) is a collaboration with glaciologist, geographer, and climate scientist Dr. Michele Koppes, which maps water rhythms from source to sink. Ibarra’s composition is derived from field recordings of five global watersheds, including the Greenland ice sheet and glacier-fed rivers of the Himalayas. Water Rhythms is an acoustic story of human entanglements with a changing climate and landscape. The premiere of Water Rhythms was presented by Fine Acts Foundation and TED at Jack Poole Plaza, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada and Innisfree Gardens, Millbrook, NY (2020). It has also been shown at The Countdown Summit, Edinburgh, Scotland (2021); as part of Nothing Makes Itself at the ARKO Art Center, Seoul, Korea (2021); and as a multi-channel sound installation at Fridman Gallery, Beacon, NY (2021) and the San Francisco Exploratorium (2022).

Ibarra’s piece Fragility Etudes , was a commissioned film by Asia Society Triennial 2021 We Do Not Dream Alone. These compositions are rhythmic studies for solos and ensemble which reflects humanity’s interdependence.  Ibarra explores conduction, polyrhythms and concepts from the physics of glass.  Fragility Etudes was filmed in residency and premiered at MASSMoCA  in live performance 2021. The film is directed by collaborating multimedia artist Yuka C. Honda. September 2022 Ibarra conducted multi-ensemble Fragility Etudes in Zamane Festival Morocco. She was commissioned for a new work for percussion in which she created RITWAL solo percussion Susie Ibarra, for the UNDRUM Festival produced by Architek Percussion and Suoni Per Il Popolo 2021 for video which premiered in June 2021.

As a producer, Ibarra collaborates with Splice to create sound packs based in environmental sounds, traditional musical cultures, and her own extended percussion language. Sounds of the Drâa Valley Morocco is a sound pack featuring six traditional ensembles and soloists from South Saharan Morocco (2022). Ibarra has also collaborated with composer and bassist Richard Reed Parry on two sound packs and a new album of compositions focused on breath cycles and heart beats, Heart and Breath: Rhythm and Tone Fields (OFFAIR Records, 2022).

Alex Peh, piano

I remember sitting behind a Yamaha electric keyboard in a group piano class in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I was six-years old when I moved to New York City with my family and began taking lessons with Mrs. Lisa Grad. She taught me how to shape a phrase using my open finger tips to sculpt the sound like a piece of clay. I remember how she related everything to the nautilus shell, its spiraling shape was a metaphor for proportion, dynamic shaping, the shape of the hand, the expansion and contraction of the body, and the overtone series...
I am a classically-trained pianist, and have used this training to collaborate with musicians globally in search of shared resonances that emerge from friendship and connection. Empowered by my 2021 Fulbright Global Scholar and 2019 Asian Cultural Council fellowships, I have collaborated with some incredible musicians; Claire Chase, Susie Ibarra, Anna Clyne, Kyaw Kyaw Naing, U Yee Nwe, U Thet Oo, Ne Myo Aung, Hafez Modirzadeh, Ramin Zoufonoun, Amir Etemadzadeh, Senem Pirler, and Phyllis Chen. My work has been presented internationally and throughout the United States at Carnegie Zankel Hall, Chulalongkorn Unviersity, Bangkok, Thailand, CB Ballroom, Yangon Myanmar, Museum of Byzantine Culture, Thessaloniki, Greece and the Detroit Institute for the Arts.  
I am a founding member of Talking Gong, an improvising trio with percussionist, Susie Ibarra and flutist, Claire Chase. We released our debut album in 2019, Talking Gong, on New Focus Recordings available on all major streaming platforms. Our trio has performed at Public Theater, Roulette Intermedium, and BRIC in New York City.  
I seek out pianistic practices that fall outside of the Western European classical tradition. I've travelled to Yangon, Myanmar to study Burmese Sandaya piano, from master pianist Dr. U Yee Nwe. I started my studies in Sandaya from Kyaw Kyaw Naing, an internationally-acclaimed percussionist, and leader of the national Saing Waing orchestra, the classical percussion and gong orchestra of Myanmar. We created a Burmese Saing Waing ensemble, comprising students, faculty and community members at SUNY New Paltz and made our debut performance at Roulette Intermedium, New York City, performing a new composition that Kyaw Kyaw Naing composed for the group entitled Growing Rhythm.  Our concert at SUNY New Paltz was sold out! Over 600 people from our small town wanted to hear Burmese Saing Waing !
In 2021 I received a Fulbright Global Scholar fellowship that allowed me to connect with Greek pianist and musicologist Nikos Ordoulidis in Naoussa, Greece; Burmese pianist Ne Myo Aung in Bangkok, Thailand and Pooyan Azadeh in Halle, Germany. Together we created a new album of piano music, Attune, on Habitat Sounds, and a companion ethnographic film Intermittent Attunement in colalboration with Dr. Lauren Meeker, Alyson Hummer and Madelyn Colonna. Excerpts of the film and album were premiered at National Sawdust, Brooklyn NYC. Intermittent Attunement was selected for screening by the Ethnografilm festival in Paris, France at the Club D’Etoile.  
I have received numerous grants to support my work such as Arts Midhudson, New York State Council of the Arts Grant, and New Music USA. Notably, I received a National Endowment for the Arts project grant that funded new compositions in afro/asian tuning systems for the piano by Ramin Zoufonoun and Hafez Modirzadeh.  
I received my musical training from Indiana and Northwestern Universities where I have been lucky to work with some of the best performers and mentors in the classical music world. I learned from Arnaldo Cohen, Menahem Pressler, Sylvia Wang and Evelyne Brancart. I attended the Banff, Aspen and Tanglewood music festivals where I worked with Emanuel Ax, Pamela Frank, Claude Frank, Ignat Solzhenitsyn, and Peter Serkin. I performed Stravinsky’s Les Noces under the baton of Charles Dutoit and the Tanglewood Festival Choir.  Currently I am an associate professor of piano at SUNY New Paltz.

Robert Margo, mandolin

Robert A. Margo is Professor of Economics, Department of Economics, at Boston University; and a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1982. From 1981 to 1986 he taught at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1987 he moved to Colgate University where he held the Banfi Vintners’ Distinguished Professorship in American Economic History. From 1989 to 2005 he taught at Vanderbilt University. Margo has been a visiting professor at Harvard University and at Bard College, and a Visiting Scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation in New York City. A specialist in the history of the American economy with particular emphasis on the economic history of African-Americans, Margo is the author, co-author or co-editor of 6 books and 170+ articles, book chapters and book reviews. He has served on the editorial boards of many journals, including the Journal of Economic History, the American Economic Review, and the Quarterly Journal of Economics; and he has served as editor or co-editor of the Southern Economic Journal and of Explorations in Economic History. Margo was elected a Fellow of the Cliometric Society in 2012 and he served as President of the Economic History Association in 2014-15. In 2018 he received the Provost’s Scholar-Teacher of the Year Award, one of Boston University’s highest honors, and in 2019 he was named a Fellow of the Economic History Association.

Margo is an accomplished performer on mandolin-family instruments, classical guitar, and renaissance lute. He performs regularly with the Hampton Trio and the Providence (Rhode Island) Mandolin Orchestra.

Jake Landau, guitar

Jake Landau is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, sound engineer and field recordist based in Germany. Along with composer/percussionist/sound artist Susie Ibarra, he is co-founder of Habitat Sounds Label and Publisher. As a musician he primarily plays drums/percussion, piano, and guitar and can be heard on albums with Ibarra such as ‘Perception’ (2017) and ‘Walking on Water’ (2021) as well as her iOS app 'Music and Water Routes of Fez.' He has also released multiple albums under his own name. As an engineer and field recordist he has recorded water, glaciers, birdsongs, oceans, other nature sounds, and music ensembles in India, Spain, Morocco, the U.S and more, over 10 Splice Sound Packs with Ibarra including Sounds of Drâa Valley Morocco, Bizung Power of the Drum, Tamale Ghana, Lithophones, Heart and Breath: Ambient Hypnotic, and Azzedine Ait Faraji’s debut album Welad Bambra. He has performed with Ibarra at the 2016 Rio Olympics, as part of her Fragility Etudes Ensemble, and most recently at Zamane Festival in M'Hamid El Ghizlane, South Sahara, Draa Valley, Morocco with Fragility Etudes Ensemble comprised of 30 musicians from Morocco, Ghana, Mali, and NY.