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Andy Akiho & Friends to Unveil “Synesthesia Suite”
Works for Steel Pan with jazz combo and chamber orchestra

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Andy and friends rehearse for Synesthesia

New York, USA - Musician, performer, composer and educator Andy Akiho does not rest when it comes to the thrill of his life - music.  Well-versed on chamber and conventional orchestra instruments, he has a special passion for his primary instrument - the steel pan.  For years he has been well-known within the New York pan community, where he has co-arranged along with Freddy Harris, III for Sesame Flyers Steel Orchestra during the annual Panorama season.  In past years, Akiho has also participated in Sesame Flyers’ biennial Steelpan extravaganzas with groups Jambalasi and Joubala, and more.  His skill set is also well-known in the home of the steelpan, Trinidad & Tobago, where he has given very impressive accounts of himself in competitive solo arenas, as performer and composer, and also as a member of Phase II Pan Groove and Starlift Steel Orchestra for the country’s annual national steelband music panorama competitions.

But Akiho’s ongoing quest for musical excellence has already expressed itself in: his role as a commissioned composer, placement at prestigious performance venues such as Carnegie Hall, positioning of his talented showmanship before celebrities, and fostering of musical collaborations with several ensembles and orchestras.  Brilliant, confident but modest, Akiho is now finishing his Master’s in Contemporary Performance at the Manhattan School of Music (MSM), and completing studies in composition with Julia Wolfe and in percussion with John Ferrari and Jeffrey Milarsky.  September of this year will find him moving along a similar trajectory, this time studying at Yale University with David Lang.

The steel pan remains the principal instrument for Akiho, with its incorporation into many of his compositions for Contemporary Classical Music, fusing the unique timbres of the pan with traditional western instruments (strings, woodwinds, brass, etc.).  His goal, he says, “is to make the pan less of a novelty and more of an instrument that has no limitations in respect to musical styles or artistic endeavors.  I am very happy that many composers and performers have been doing this already while keeping the wonderful tradition alive.  I am just trying to do it as well, with my own experiences and interpretations, and I hope that it may affect or touch someone someday.”


Andy and friends rehearse for Synesthesia

And it is that inspiration, determination and talent that will be front and center two days from now, when Andy Akiho presents his final show - “Synesthesia” (with music by Akiho) - at Manhattan School of Music’s Borden Auditorium, New York - featuring steel pans, jazz combo and chamber orchestra.  Showtime is 7:30 p.m. and this unique musical event is free and open to the public.

He and fellow musicians have been devoting their full attention to Friday’s event.  Officially billed as the “Synesthesia Suite,” it showcases a series of short works for steel pan, jazz combo and chamber orchestra (in full ensemble or in subsets of the full group).  The full cast - Andy Akiho and Friends - features a complement of performers, many who are recognized musicians in their own right.  The complete suite/performance is approximately one hour in duration, and the line up is as follows:

Conductor: Jeffrey Gavett
Flute/Piccolo: Nicole Camacho
Oboe: Kathleen Coughlin
Clarinet in Bb: Alejandro Acierto
Bass Clarinet in Bb: Philip Everall
Bassoon: Annie Lyle
Horn in F: Matt Marks
Trumpet in C: Suresh Singaratnam
Trombone: James Rogers
Tuba: Justin Clarkson
Percussion: Jude Traxler, Alyson Rzeszotarski, Kyle Ritenauer


Andy Akiho
Guitar: Kobe van Cauwenberghe
Harp: Matthew Tutsky

Piano/Toy Piano:

Vicky Chow, Anne Rainwater
Amplified Cello:  Mariel Roberts
Amplified Bass:  Gregg August
Drumset: Kenneth Salters
Violins:  Olivia De Prato, Andie Springer
Viola: Victor Lowrie
Cello:  Isabel Castellvi


“Synesthesia Suite” PROGRAM

Duet for cello, steel pan, prepared pan, percussion and electronics
featuring Mariel Roberts on cello, percussion and electronics

“Synesthesia Suite”
A series of short works for steel pan, jazz combo and chamber orchestra (in full ensemble or in subsets of the full group)

Daidai Iro (Orange) 
Quintet for steel pan, toy piano, cello, bass, and drumset 
Kimidori (Lime Green)
aka: “Omnipresent”
Solo for tenor pan
Murasaki (Purple)
Quintet for steel pan, harp, cello, bass, and drumset
Shiro (White)
For steel pan and strings
Momo Iro (Pink)
Quartet for steel pan, acoustic guitar, bass, and drumset
Ki Iro (Yellow)
For Large Chamber Ensemble (strings, woodwinds, percussion, pan, piano, Harp, and Drums)
Karakurenai (Crimson)
aka: “Rochester Song”
Solo for prepared steel pan
Kuro (Black)
Open instrumentation (free improvisation with full ensemble)
Hanba Iro (Beige)
For Chamber Orchestra (the entire group: woodwinds, brass, percussion, pan, jazz combo, and strings)
Aka (Red)
For Chamber Orchestra (the entire group: woodwinds, brass, percussion, pan, jazz combo, and strings)

Rehearsal for Synesthesia

Andy Akiho’s connection with the New York pan community remains steadfast and he is indebted to those who have influenced and mentored him, including the late arranger and guitarist Scipio “Skip” Sargeant.  Says Andy: “This show is dedicated to all of my past and present teachers and musical colleagues, with special reverence to the great Scipio Sargeant, who passed away on April 20, 2009. He was a great influence and inspiration to me and to the entire steel pan community.”

Andy Akiho’s words:

Background info about my studies with Scipio ‘Sarge’ Sargeant and his impact on my music:

I used to live on Sterling Street in Brooklyn, one block away from Sarge in 2004.  For about two months in the fall of that year, I would go to his apartment to study with him almost everyday for hours at a time.  Skip taught me a lot about jazz and about the feel and interpretation of Calypso music.  We would work through standards while hitting on the ins-and-outs of turnarounds and advanced chordal substitutions.  I wish that I had more time with him.  He was an amazing guitar player, and he knew more about the steel pan than most pan players.  He was one of the greatest panorama arrangers to ever live.   The “Synesthesia” movement entitled “Momo Iro” for pan, guitar, bass, and drums is especially dedicated to Sarge.  It definitely has a lot of his influence and personality hidden within the piece.

Sarge also taught me not to be afraid of performing even though I was not a Trinidadian.  He never got caught up in the trivial nonsense of a “foreigner” playing the pan.  He really had confidence in me and was always 100% genuine in his encouragement.  When Freddy Harris, III and I were arranging for Sesame Flyers in ’04 and ’05, Sarge would regularly come by the panyard with full support and give us tips on how to arrange for the band.  He even put the final touches and ending measures to our arrangement of “Action” in 2005.  Sarge was an inspiration to us all.  I wish that I thanked him more when he was alive…

Program notes for the compositions of the “Synesthesia Suite”:

About “21”
“21” was written for Mariel Roberts in October, 2008.  After meeting Mariel at the Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival, I became extremely impressed with her sense of rhythm and effortless mastery of the cello.  I first realized her talent when we performed “I falleN TwO” for string quartet and steel pans.  I was amazed by her interpretation, accuracy, and musical interpretation of the piece, and it inspired me to write her a duet for cello and steel pans.   I wanted to incorporate elements in the piece that I hoped would be unique, challenging and fun to work on together.   The cello part requires the cellist to play a kick drum and operate a loop pedal while playing the cello.  The pan part requires the pannist to play one regular tenor pan, a prepared tenor pan with rubber bands (to mimic snap pizzicatos), and a tambourine with the foot.  The title “21” refers to the twenty-first measure of J.S. Bach’s Violin Sonata #1 Fugue in Gmin.     The harmonic chords in this bar are the inspiration of the sequence of notes for “21.”  Also, Mariel Roberts was 21 years-old when the piece was written and premiered.

About the “Synesthesia Suite”

Synesthesia: from the Ancient Greek σύν (syn), “together,” and ασθησις (aisthēsis), “sensation” -- is a neurologically based phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.   (definition from Wikipedia on April 28, 2009)

I do not have perfect pitch at all; however, when I compose, improvise, memorize or perform music, especially on steel pan, I associate the pitches with colors.  For example, every time I play or think of an “A,” it has to be red in my mind… “D” = Orange, and so on…  Some people have synesthesia with absolute pitch.  They can hear a note without knowing what it is and tell you the exact pitch sounded by the color that they see in their mind associated with the particular pitch.  I however only have synesthesia in a kinesthetic sense, where I associate the colors with the note that I am already aware of striking or writing.  This first happened to me one late evening in Trinidad in 2002.  I remember it clearly…  We were rehearsing in the Starlift Panyard under Ray Holman for his composition and Panorama arrangement “Dr. Mannette.”  I had never been a part of any musical experience quite like that before (playing with over 100 steelband members till 2:00 am every morning).  One night we were rehearsing this octatonic lick that Ray had just given to the frontline for at least an hour straight.  Eventually, I began to close my eyes and just feel the music.  The lick began to show up in colors, and was consistent with each repetition.  I vividly remember first seeing orange associated with the “D” pitch and it has been the same ever since.

This experience inspired the movements of the “Synesthesia Suite.”  Each movement represents a different tonal center or key for the various colors.  For example “ki iro” (Japanese for Yellow) is a waltz based around Bb: the pitch that I associate with yellow.  There are fourteen movements total: all twelve equal tempered tonal colors or centers, and black and white.  White is represented by a piece that includes a lot of bright ambiguous harmonics produced by striking the spaces between the hammered steel pan notes, while black is represented as a free atonal improvisation of extended techniques by all the performers.

The movements were almost all originally written as unaccompanied tenor pan solos within the past few years.  However, I have just begun to orchestrate them.  Currently ten of the fourteen movements are complete, and this concert will be the first performance of these completely orchestrated versions.  The musicians performing are all amazing contemporary and jazz artists who I have had the pleasure to perform and collaborate with this past year.  This performance will be a culmination of everything that I have learned in the past two years at the Manhattan School of Music.  I am very grateful that I will be one of the first thirteen to graduate as the first class of the Contemporary Performance Masters Program at MSM.  It has been an honor to be a part of the program, and to have studied with John Ferrari, Jeffrey Milarsky, and Julia Wolfe.


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Contact Andy Akiho at: andyakiho@gmail.com

Concert location: Manhattan School of Music - Borden Auditorium, (West 122nd St. and Broadway), New York - No. 1 Train to 125th St. or 116th St.
Time: 7:30 PM
Date: Friday, May 1st 2009
Free Admission!


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