What project have I been working on for the past few months? Let me share with you.
Little known fact about me: I’m a classically-trained viola player. In high school, I was lucky enough to be invited to play in a quartet organized by violinist Maya Bennardo, who quickly became a close friend. Maya and I have kept in touch since the group disbanded when we all went to college. Although I haven’t seen her in several years, I’ve been happily following her career as she carves out a place for herself in the New York music scene.
Enter: andPlay. What is andPlay? It is a dynamic violin/viola duo six years in the making composed of Maya Bennardo and Hannah Levinson (who I still haven’t met, which I consider a tragedy). Before I get into the project we worked on, I want to take a moment to truly introduce y’all to what these wonderful women are doing on the frontier of contemporary music.
PHLOX: Where does the name andPlay come from?
MAYA: The naming process for an ensemble (or really anything) is so tricky. We had lists of ideas and we were always asking friends and family for input. There was a gig that I had played that year (with a different ensemble) where each musician was wearing headphones that would tell the player when to play by practically yelling "and PLAY" in their ears. It came up as a suggestion basically as a joke, and we started to like it more and more until it was actually our top pick!
P: How did the two of you meet?
HANNAH: We both went to Oberlin College and met through a mutual friend who was Maya's roommate. But, Maya was a few years behind me in school so even though we were both musicians, we didn't really get to know each other very well. It wasn't until the wedding of this mutual friend that we reconnected and became friends! We had both moved to New York City by that point and ended up playing together in an ensemble. When that ensemble had an opportunity to present chamber music concerts on Fire Island, Maya, being obsessed with the ocean, immediately called me to see if we could do a program together. We had a great time rehearsing and performing for this random show -- after that, andPlay was born!
P: How long have you each been playing music?
M: I have been playing violin since I was eight years old, but I before that I took piano lessons. I deeply disliked practicing piano, so when I fell in love with the violin my mom actually made we wait six months before I was allowed to take lessons to make sure that it wasn't just a passing phase. I really proved her wrong, eh?
H: I started playing violin when I was 3 years old (my mom played violin and I demanded that I play as well)! When I was in 9th grade I switched to viola. At the time it seemed like there would be more opportunities for violists, and fortunately it turned out that I liked it a lot more -- can't imagine being a violinist, haha!
P: Can you talk about the type of music you are playing and how you each came to be drawn to it?
H: We play contemporary classical music, which is classical music that is being written by composers who are still alive, and are often our peers and colleagues. We were both drawn to it for a few reasons. First, because we are often playing pieces that are brand new, we find that there is a lot more room for us to be creative! While we both enjoy playing older classical music, often times there is so much wrapped up in it-- how it's been played historically, the great recordings that exist, how we were trained in conservatory, etc. With new music, we are the people creating these first performances, which is an exciting process! Another thing that is appealing to us about contemporary music is that it presents a set of challenges that are always new and unexpected. We discover new playing skills through extended techniques (ways of playing instruments that are not typically done in classical music), interpret brand new scores -- essentially we have to bring composers' imaginations to life! Some of our favorite interactions are when composers have a sound in mind and we workshop with them to figure out how we can make it and then how they can notate it. Basically, we are constantly experimenting, problem-solving, and playing music that we are interested in!
P: What's the most significant performance you have given together?
M: That may have to be the first time that we performed together back in the Summer of 2012. We were playing in a residency on the beautiful Fire Island, and even though it may not have been our best performance I think we both knew that there was something special and that we wanted to keep playing together!
P: What inspired you to have your jumpsuits embroidered?
M: I have been excited about having an andPlay uniform for a while, and we were just waiting for the right idea to come to us. When I saw these jumpsuits I knew they were it. I wanted them to be embroidered because I had this idea of a delicate motorcycle jacket for the two of us. I thought that the embroidery on the back would communicate this sense of unity in a powerful and beautiful way. Embroidery has long been a craft associated with women, and has such a varied history from around the world going back as far as the Han dynasty and the ancient Greeks. I love the idea of performing in pieces that incorporate an art form with such a rich past, and working with Grace, who is an old and dear friend on this project has been such an incredible experience!
P: What's next for andPlay?
H: We have a really exciting season coming up: concerts in Sweden, Canada, and Pittsburgh (Hannah's hometown), plus we are recording our first album. We cannot wait until its released next year -- it's full of music that we love and hope that the rest of the world agrees with us!
And now, project talk…
Earlier this summer, Maya and Hannah gave me a call and floated an idea past me. They were in the process of purchasing jumpsuits which would become the andPlay uniforms for their performances. They asked if I would be interested in embroidering them - which of course I was. We talked design and exchanged ideas for a few weeks before they sent me the suits and I got to work. This is by far my favorite embroidery project and I’m so excited about the result. More photos are in the making of Maya and Hannah actually wearing these so stay tuned. In the meantime, please accept these images of the backs of the jumpsuits before I sent them off to New York.
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