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Classical Nightclub: KC Jukebox 2

The question on everyone's mind in the world of classical music is how to get young adults to attend concerts. To address this issue, the Kennedy Center has established Mason Bates, winner of the 2012 Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities, as its first Composer-In-Residence. Mason Bates - KC Composer-in-Residence - photo by Scott Suchman.jpgOn February 22, 2016, Bates curated a second installment in his contemporary music series called KC Jukebox. Program 2 entitled Of Land & Sea took place in the intimate Kennedy Center Theater Lab and then spilled back out into the reception hall afterwards for a party with a drink, pulsating music with a live DJ, and projections. (The party actually started before the performance.)

The formal concert inside the Theater Lab--and the Dresser must add that this is new classical music--came off as a hipster's nightclub complete with hazer (a machine that puts water vapor into the air to emphasize beams of light), informational and environmental projections, animated musicians (who make their personalities known and do not act like robots), a tiny palm-sized "passport" program (surely less paper has to please the environmentalists while maintaining the traditional program security blanket), and a smidge of electronics (nothing too radical that might chase away audience expecting to hear acoustical instruments).

The concert started on time with a recording of John Luther Adams's electronic piece "At the Still Point." Yes, there were still people being seated and moving around, but this action is like the much-in-vogue actions of today's theater where players wander out of the audience onto stage to "play" before the lights go down in the house. Did it do harm to Adams's work since people were not giving it their full attention? That's hard to say, but there were projections providing additional information about the composer so if a listener wasn't fully immersed in the recorded number, he or she had the composer's name and title of the work in the program passport to take home and research. After all, in today's world of artistic exchange, the audience has to take some responsibility.

Excerpts from Gabriela Lena Frank's "Milagros" came next as played by The Last Stand Quartet, young performers all members of the National Symphony Orchestra. This was a huge favorite of the show for the Dresser. Frank's music, which comes out of a multi-cultural background, is lively and playful as well as environmentally evocative. Frank, an American born in Berkeley, California, is the child of a Peruvian Chinese mother and a Lithuanian Jewish Father. "Milagros" takes it inspiration from her mother's homeland of Peru. Of the eight movements, the string quartet played II. Milagrito-- Zampoñas Rotas ("Broken Panpipes"), V. Milagrito -- Sombras de Amantaní ("Shadows of Amantaní"), VI. Milagrito -- Adios a Churín ("Goodbye to Churín"), and VII. Milagrito -- Danza de los Muñecos ("Dance of the Dolls"). The Dresser was particularly engaged by the passion poured into this performance by the cellist Rachel Young but that is not to say violinists Alexandra Osborne and Joel Fuller and violist Mahoko Eguchi were placid. No, what made this concert enjoyable was seeing that these musicians were fully alive in the musical performance.

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Another lively aspect of the program were two compositions by Pulitzer Prize and Grammy Award winner Christopher Rouse for percussion as played by four able percussionists: John Spirtas, Greg Akagi, Doug Wallace, and Bill Richards. "Ku-Ka-llimoku" dealt with a Hawaiian god of war and had lush woodblock accents. Inspired by Haitian drumming patterns, "Ogoun Badagris," with emphasis on four conga drums that correlate to the Voodoo drums known as the be-be, seconde, maman, and asator, rocked the Theater Lab with its intensity.

Much quieter and meditative was "Seven Seascapes" by Pulitzer Prize-winner Kevin Puts. It is an 18-minute composition for a mixed ensemble of winds, strings, and piano that pays tribute to seven writers including Emily Dickinson, Carl Sandburg, D. H. Lawrence, and Virginia Wolf. Inspired by a poem of Emily Dickinson, the opening movement is achingly beautiful in its lyricism and was finely played by the assembled musicians again all veterans of the National Symphony Orchestra.

The last work of the program was "Red River" by Mason Bates. 2016_02_23_of_land_and_sea-009sm.jpgIt's a 17-minute composition for clarinet, violin, piano and cello but it also has an electronic component that serves more as a percussive timekeeper. Parts of "Red River" are joyfully reminiscent of Aaron Copland. Because she felt a bit impatient with the slow pace, the Dresser thinks she would have enjoyed hearing "Red River" more if it had been performed after "At the Still Point" and ahead of the excerpts of "Milagros." With that re-ordering than the last composition heard would have been the rhythmic "Ogoun Badagris," putting the Dresser in the mood to party.2016_02_23_of_land_and_sea_afterparty-001SM.jpg

In "Love's Baby Soft," Moira Egan addresses territory and how to protect a presumably innocent girl from a way too cool young man. So enter the girl's dad into this equation. Crossing the generational divide but trying to pull the whole community together is what Mason Bates is tasked to do. Bates has a history of creating innovative programs that cross between various forms of contemporary music--jazz and its offshoots, classical music, and textual experimentation and electronics. During his residency with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, he married new music to new spaces. His instincts are good and, for the most part, he knows how to create a scene where people of all ages want to be, to experience his colors, and to stay with that sensation. Mark your calendar for April 18 when Bates concludes his KC Jukebox with "New Voices, Old Muses," a program focused on evoking new responses from classic works of poetry and ancient instruments.


Love's Baby Soft
(because innocence is sexier than you think)

He's tall and cute, and gestures me to follow
him out the door, spring full-on, lavender
and rose, geraniums exuding pheromones,
a luscious word I'm pleased to have just learned

in 9th grade Bio. "You mind if I smoke?"
He lights up. "Who's that old guy at the bar?"
"My father, who'd'ya think?" "You must be joking."
I shake my head, I am that poet's daughter.

And rules are what? He offers me a drag;
I don't. And so he leans in for a kiss,
grown-up and musky, smoky - and then Dad
is there. First time I've ever seen his fists.

Dad sneers at him, "You know she's still a virgin"
and glares at me. I see. It was a question.

Moira Egan
first appeared in Birmingham Poetry Review

copyright © 2015 Moira Egan

Photos by Scott Suchman

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on February 25, 2016 4:32 PM.

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