Virko Baley -- Composer, Conductor, Writer, Educator

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Later Life and Works

In 1963, Baley was drafted into the United States Army and stationed in Fulda, Germany. There he became an assistant conductor and house composer/arranger for an army band. Baley also met his first wide, Karin Koch, and upon his discharge in 1965, the two left for Los Angeles. Between 1965 and 1969, Baley essentially stopped composing to concentrate on performing and teaching. In 1967, he greatly reduced his private piano studio to teach full-time at his alma mater, now named California Institute of the Arts, where his course loan also included teaching classes in music history and theory.

Two events in 1970 marked a change in Baley's artistic life. First, his family - now including a song, Stephan, and a daughter, Vanessa - moved to Las Vegas, where he assumed a position as head of the piano faculty at the University of Nevada and organized both the Las Vegas Chamber Players and the Annual Contemporary Music Festival. Second, he returned to composing with three completed works: his Nocturnal No. 3 for three pianos, his Partita No. 1 (first version) for three trombones and three pianos, and Duo Concertante for violoncello and piano, originally titled Tropes. These marked a new direction for the composer, reveal elements of which - a non-linear concept of time, the use of memory as a structural device, and employing two or more events (or tempos) simultaneously - Baley still uses today.

"My interest is to say profound things, but with a graceful and light touch. Or, to put it another way, to create enough space around each metaphor so it can grow and turn on its own in the listener's ear."

— Virko Baley

Baley's four-movement Partita is performed by a central trombone duo, flanked by similar duos to the left and the right that both "whisper into the ear of the central group," the composer writes, "sometimes mimicking and sometimes anticipating a future event." It s in the "Variations" movement that Baley's non-linear concepts become most apparent, with several of the variations being played at the same time, from different locations. Originally written for the trombonist Glen Johnston and performed at the inaugural Contemporary Music Festival (which the San Francisco Chronicle said was "not only the best in the West, but internationally,") The Partita was revised for trombonist Miles Anderson and performed at the Festival again in 1976. A third version is also available, in a concerto grosso arrangement for trombone, trumpet, electric 5-string violin, electronics, and orchestra, and was composed for the ensemble Caravan. 

Although Baley maintains that he has never forsaken tonality, the Partita does stretch that definition to its limits. Likewise, Sculptured Birds for clarinet and piano presents and equally austere face, with equally stringent technical demands. A musical metaphor for flight, its first movement, "Jurassic Bird," recalls the precursor of flight, quoting fragments of the old "Dies Irae" chant in the piano. In "The Eagle," the clarinet's vocal line explores extremes of color and technical range within a piano cadenza before falling into a slow remembrance. "Bird in Glide" is a study in proportions where the piano determines its character by means of 13 separate chords, each containing the melodic kernel of a new section. "The Chinese Nightingale," inspired in equal parts by the Max Ernst collage and the mechanical bird in Fellini's film, Casanova, is an isorhythmic parody of a 15th century rondeau.

Sculptured Birds originated as a single movement, "Jurassic Bird," written for Felix Viscuglia, a member of the Las Vegas Chamber Players and former bass clarinetist for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and was later completed for his temporary replacement in Las Vegas, William Powell. From his home in Las Vegas, Baley has forged ongoing collaborations with a number of musicians, including pianists Laura Spitzer and Elissa Stutz, whom Baley married in 1982. The Nocturnal No. 4 (1971;1988) is a big, moody piece that the Los Angeles Times found "reminiscent of the nocturnes and nigh music of Crumb, (although) it has a strong sense of individuated identity and direction." The New York Times' Bernard Holland found its piano sonority used in "sophisticated yet highly dramatic ways. In its center are 13 delicate 'Interludes' - delicate aphorisms each with its own flavor."

The Nocturnal No. 5 (1980) is a fiendishly difficult study in non-imitative counterpoint. Taking his cue from Akutagawa Rynosuke's story In a Grove (filmed as Kurasawa's Rashomon)where the same central event is described in four wildly divergent first-hand accounts, Baley's central event is a pitch ordering which becomes four separate identities in counterpoint. A cantus-firmus baseline holds the dominant rhythmic pule around which the other voices swirl and dance in what critic Will Crutchfield described in The New York Times as "the filigree of Chopin and the nature - voices of Bartók's night music in a flittering, dissonant idiom. "The lines gradually begin to resemble oe another as they approach the climax. 

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