What’s the story behind the music for both pieces?

Snake River near Keystone, Colorado

Katie: Both of these pieces are postcards from quarantine, each a reflection of the environment I was in when I wrote them. Apartment Sounds was written during March while I was in New York City during the spring peak of the pandemic surge there. Confined to my tiny Harlem apartment, I wanted to document the sounds of my day — wind chimes, raindrops on the air-conditioner unit, the toaster oven, music and sirens in the background— all sort of blended together in a haze that clouded my sense of time passing. Riverwalk was written when I relocated to my parent-in-laws’ home in Keystone, Colorado in June. Suddenly, space and the outdoors! I recorded sounds from my daily walks along the nearby Snake River, enjoying the variety and detail in the sound of rushing water. So, Riverwalk uses those field recordings, and kind of tries to take the listener on that walk with me, and of course, Robyn.

What’s it like when Katie brings you a new piece? Is there a lot of discussion beforehand, or does she just present it to you as a finished piece? 

Katie and Robyn working on new sounds for Balch’s 2019 Concerto for Violin using a thimble.

Robyn: Katie and I talk a lot and we usually know what the other is working on, so it isn’t generally a surprise when Katie sends me something – but it is always exciting and an honor! We live in such a rich and interconnected musical community, so I’m always touched when Katie turns to me with music. Sometimes she’ll ask about a specific technical problem or she’ll ask for a recording of a specific sound, and other times she’ll just send me a completed draft. It definitely feels like a collaborative process – but as a performer working with a composer, my role is to support and do my best to achieve or translate what she has in mind. The fact that we know each other so well doesn’t change that, it just makes it easier and more fun!

Brahms wrote his Violin Concerto and his Double Concerto for his muse, Joseph Joachim, and his scores show signs of edits made by the violinist. How do the two of you work together? Does Robin get to suggest changes or edits?

K: I always want feedback from Robyn on a piece. The context of collaboration differs with each experience — in the case of Apartment Sounds, I actually built the electronic part around Robyn’s recording of the violin part. In Riverwalk it was the opposite, Robyn’s part came after the electronic part was finished and we sort of exchanged some sketches/recordings for it to full form.

Both works have an accompanying video. Can you tell us more about that?

K: Both works have an accompanying video. The video for Apartment Sounds is the first c.30’ of my drive out of New York en route to Colorado, sped up to be the length of the piece. My Harlem apartment was my home for 4 years and it was sad to leave NYC under the circumstances. I wanted to document the moment of driving away. The video for Riverwalk is just a shot of the Snake River, where most of the field recordings used in the electronics part come from. There’s some light processing that causes the river to speed up or slow down depending on gestures Robyn plays or in the electronic part.

Robyn Bollinger performs Two Songs for Robyn by former Composer-in-Residence Katherine Balch at VIRTUOSO VIBRATIONS, the second concert in the all new virtual Second Saturdays @ California Symphony series, free to watch online and on Walnut Creek TV.