Skip to content

Oh whyo whyo whyo

It was not quiet week in Bowling Green, my new favorite town in Northwestern Ohio. The pre-game was of course getting to hang with my BCM Brother, Maestro SB, (Bowling Green State University’s Visiting Artist in Residence) Steve-o’s own MM, and BGSU’s chili-peppered Prof Ken Thompson. Aside from the postseason baseball viewing, complete with wings and beer of course, the main event was actually the BGSU’s New Music & Art Festival. The Festival is an impressive thing, now in it’s 27th year, with dozens of composers and performers and artists all meeting up in BG in a 3 day whirlwind of rehearsals, concerts, panel discussions, and schmoozing. It’s a stunning amount of new music to take in, and all competing with the agita of rehearsing and hearing one’s own.

This year’s Featured Guest Composer was the inscrutable maverick, Frederic Rzewski. Rzewski, as the ex-pat/politically-charged artist that he is, is a kind of mythic figure for other composers, and I must say, he lived up to my expectations. I’ve heard a fair number of his works live, and have a good friend who studied with him in Belgium so I’ve even heard some stories, but I’ve never gotten to hear him play (he’s an accomplished pianist) or talk, or generally interact with other Earthlings. There were several opportunities during the festival, each more bizarrely intriguing than the next. I can’t decide which was more head-scratching … the lecture/recital featuring Rzewski playing a new work-in-progress (where he alternated between speaking philosophical aphorisms with playing spiky gestures on the piano for nearly an hour), or the 40 minute left-hand-only piano solo.

My absolute favorite of these descents into madness was a work called Spoils, a world premiere, performed on the final chamber music concert by BGSU’s New Music Ensemble, led by the dedicated Ken T. Earlier in the week Ken showed SB and me the score to this mad ditty, which kind of looks like the dude who feverishly scribbled it out might very well have been hearing voices. It’s an insane piece, where no specific instruments are called for, there is rarely a straightforward linear left-to-right notation happening, the percussion battery includes salad bowls and lunchboxes, and aleatory rules the day. The players put their own parts together to make this thing happen, and they were works of art unto themselves … a collection of cut-out paper in outrageous patterns – quad-folds and monstrous über-sheets and flip-out extensions. I swear, one of them looked like a pop-up book. The piece when realized sounds like some kind of musical representation of a Fellini flick or something. The midget clowns are doing flips down the road, and they’re headed toward you… Run! Absolutely nuts. I loved every minute of it. I seriously can’t decide whether FR is brilliant, or putting us all on, or what. And who cares. It’s monstrous, original stuff. I needed proof, maybe more for myself than for anyone else, that I did rub elbows with the man, so SB and I eventually cajoled him into posing for a picture with us. I must say, the guy wasn’t happy about it, but he obliged. I don’t have the evidence in my grubby little paws yet, but I’m betting it will crop up on a web page near you, quite soon…

There were so very many pieces by a marvelous array of composers during this event. Even though I was distracted with Mets Grief, I pulled myself together in order to get to as many of them as I could. Here’s a brief of the pieces I would like to hear again (listed in the order of performance over the 3 days):

• Robert Yamasato’s Octet, a facile mixed chamber work by a young composer I suspect we’ll be seeing more of…

• Greg Sandow’s Sonatina. Yup, that Greg Sandow. It’s a lovely little piece, and both GS and his wife Anne Midgette were participating in the Festival to hold forth on music criticism and such as well.

• Enrico Chapela’s sax quartet, La Mengambrea. I totally dug this piece—an engaging and groovy quartet. Apparently, la mengambrea is kind of street-food taco in Mexico City. This piece was as excellent as I’m sure those scary tacos are yummy. I chatted with Enrico for little bit—he’s off to Paris for more compositional studies. I’ll be on the lookout for more from him as well.

• Frederic Rzewski’s Wails, a mixed quintet. How can you go wrong with a piece where the sopranino saxophone player prefaces his phrases with breathless rhythmic hooting and various other wordless utterances?

• Bob Beaser’s Manhattan Roll, which I really enjoyed hearing again—it’s simply orchestrational mastery.

Avner Dorman‘s big and gorgeous Variations Without a Theme. Avner is getting a lot of well-deserved attention—he’s a terrific composer who thinks big and executes with marvelous craft.

Michael Daugherty‘s Raise the Roof. MD’s timpani concerto, which I confess I’ve never heard, is, in a word, terrific. You expected, maybe?

• Steven Bryant’s Radiant Joy. I can’t get enough of this piece. There’s something infectious in there. I think Steve-o wrote in a virus or something.

The last four listed were of course on the big final concert with the BGSU Philharmonia, under Emily Freeman Brown, and the BGSU Wind Symphony, under Bruce Moss. I can’t tell you much I was impressed with these ensembles and their mighty leaders, and how hard the players had obviously worked to polish everything to a shine.

And yes, of course, there was the reason I went … the performance of my string quartet Wapwallopen, which opened the final chamber music concert, and which sounded absolutely thrilling as played by the BGSU Graduate Quartet. Here’s a big shout-out out and my gratitude to Maria Bessmeltseva, Paraschos Paraschoudis, Jesse Griggs, and Heather Scott—all beautiful and exiting players! I loved hearing this piece again, and I think it went over quite well, so I was really pleased.

Finally, part of the festival mechanics includes time for every composer to contribute to the Mid-American Center for Contemporary Music’s ongoing project of collecting short audio messages from the participating composers every year. They’re all online, so you can hear previous year’s contributions here. (My favorite in the archives is from the great Sam Adler, whose voice-type … I call it the “Your Favorite Rabbi” … always makes me insanely happy.) I will not be saying when my recorded “interview” goes live online, because it was simply awful. I think I maybe blacked out or something. All I knew was that 2 or 3 minutes later I was removed from the recording studio, mumbling something about counterpoint. I only hope they can edit whatever I did into some semblance of a thing. Yikes.

My thanks to BGSU … Marilyn Shrude, John Sampen, Kurt Doles, Burton Beerman … for hosting this Festival and inviting me!

Post to Twitter Post to Digg Post to Facebook Post to StumbleUpon

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *