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Caroline (Carrie) Mallonee, combining science and poetry in sound

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Photo Credit: Henry Huebner

American composer Caroline Mallonee (Note: “rhymes with Fallon-y” she says “like a joke by Jimmy Fallon”) is one of those incredibly busy Gen-Xers for whom the word multi-tasking doesn’t quite capture it. She composes, plays the violin, sings in The Vocalis Choir, and along with her husband, pianist Eric Huebner, is raising a very active family of two boys right here in Buffalo, NY. I’ve seen them downhill skiing in the Southtowns, sledding in Delaware Park, bicycle riding on the Rails to Trails path.  Has she always been like this? Probably. You don’t get into Harvard, then Yale, then Duke, not to mention the prestigious MacDowell Artists Colony by sitting around waiting for the bread to rise. Although to judge by her Facebook posts during Covid, she handles that baking thing pretty well too. Oh, did I mention that she is also director of the Walden School Creative Musicians Retreat, a week-long festival for composers and improvisers held in New Hampshire each June?

I’m a big fan having first heard Carrie’s composition “The Butterfly Effect,” a 10-minute piece for string quartet and at least four rainsticks (and rainstick players) and electronics, when the Buffalo Chamber Players (founded by BPO violist Janz Castelo, another very busy Gen-Xer, and a big fan of Mallonee’s) performed it at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. I was thrilled a few years later when asked to be one of the rainstick players when the Clara Quartet performed it at the Friends of Vienna concert series. You may recall a discussion of the scientific concept known as “The Butterfly Effect” when Jeff Goldblum’s character mentions it in the first “Jurassic Park” movie. It is credited to the founder of Chaos Theory, Edward Lorenz, and is often described as how a butterfly flapping its wings in China can lead to a hurricane in the west.

At this point you may be thinking: “Wait a minute. I wanted to read about music. What’s with all this math and science?” Well, that’s precisely where Mallonee gets much of her inspiration. Another work I’ve enjoyed is her 2019 “Portraits of Andromeda” referring both to the constellation, meteor showers, and “the chained woman” of Greek myth (quite a story, if you want to look that one up). I first heard it when Christopher Weber conducted the Camerata di Sant’Antonio with BPO Associate Principal ‘cellist Feng Hew as soloist. The work was written for Feng Hew and you can hear my interview with the principals here.

Before that, I had heard Hew as soloist in another piece Mallonee composed for her when JoAnn Falletta and the BPO performed Mallonee’s 2015 “Whistler Waves” at the Canisius College Montante Center. Whistler Waves are inaudible waveforms generated by lightning strikes.

 Google it if you want, but good luck trying to understand the physics. You can hear a selection from “Portraits of Andromeda” and all three movements of “Whistler Waves” on Mallonee’s website, or by clicking here.

 You can also hear the complete “Whistler Waves” on the BPO CD “Built for Buffalo 2” with Feng Hew as soloist. By the way, even during the pandemic, you may have seen the ‘cellist as part of WNED-PBS’s “BPO Musician Portraits”  But it’s not all math and physics, meteorology, and atmospherics. Well, not entirely. One of the most mesmerizing pieces was inspired by an 11-acre earth and grass project/installation along the Hudson River called “Storm King Wavefield” by artist Maya Lin (who also designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC). The musical piece is called Storm King Suite and you can hear the second movement here.  I’ve never heard that mesmerizing work live, but I have heard the hypnotic “Crossings” several times, and on her website, Mallonee has provided a stunning performance by Buffalo’s own Yuki Numata Resnick (co-founder of Buffalo String Works which provides instruments and lessons to the West Side immigrant community). As with most of Carrie’s compositions, there are layers of meaning in her titles. One meaning is that the violinist must actively use her bow to rapidly cross over from one string to another. It’s an athletic feat to perform and you can hear and see "Crossings" here. 

And, as I mentioned, part of Mallonee’s impressive resume is a stint at the prestigious MacDowell Colony (founded by Marian MacDowell, the widow of American composer Edward MacDowell to provide a peaceful place for creative artists in all genres to work undisturbed).

 I’ll wrap up this blog post with a link to a bit of evocative, nostalgic, old-time Americana, played on a violin whose strings have been re-tuned to ADAD, as violinist Salley Koo plays Mallonee’s “Morning Porch (MacDowell)” from “String Tunes.” You can hear that here: 

Photo Credit goes to Henry Huebner (age 7 at the time of the photo!)