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Did I hear spring peepers — or was it my imagination? From the primitive cries of Judy Klein's "The Wolves of Bays Mountain" (1998) to the cosmic sound of Thomas Clark's "LIGHTFORMS 2: StarSpectra" (1993) and featuring the world premiere of Clark's "The Fourth Angel" (2007), this performance consisted of works created by artists in response to global warming as part of the interdisciplinary Climate Change Symposium.
The concert took place in the ballroom of the Talley Student Center at North Carolina State University. Guest artists Debra Reuter-Pivetta, flute, Clifton Matthews, piano, Jonathan Kramer, cello, and Thomas Clark, trombone, performed works by Thomas Clark, Dean of the School Music at the North Carolina School of the Arts; Judy Klein; J. Mark Scearce, Director of Music at NC State University; and Rodney Waschka II, Professor of the NC State Arts Studies Program and Director of the Arts Now Series.
Jonathan Kramer, artist-in-residence and associate professor at the University, performed Scearce's "Gaea's Lament" (1989) for solo cello and Waschka's "Singing In Traffic" (1997). Kramer's reading of the simple but beautifully crafted melodic lines of the former illuminate the composer's emotional response to the disastrous Exxon Valdese oil spill. In conversation, Scearce self-deprecatingly said that he fears he might be accused a "tunesmith." Yet what better way to communicate the cry of Mother Earth!
"Singing In Traffic" (1997), for cello and tape, and constructed with elements of chance, offers the performer freedom and spontaneity. Originally intended for the hagum, a bowed Korean folk instrument, Kramer performed on his preferred instrument. His choice of intervals (perfect fifths and major seconds), slides, and ornaments reveal his understanding of Asian music and performance practice. But what captured the inherent sentiment of both composers was Kramer's artistic sensibility with the bow. Producing a deep, resonating tone and carefully tapered phrasing, he seemed to echo Kurt Vonnegut's words from A Man Without a Country; "we have mortally wounded this sweet life-supporting planet...."
Three of Thomas Clark's works were featured on the program. "Peninsula" (1984), for piano and recorded electronic computer music, was performed sensitively by artist Clifton Matthews. Clark's brief instruction to the audience, which aptly applies to all electro-acoustic music, is to listen as if taking a walk through the woods, or in this case, "sailing in a foggy sound." "LIGHTFORMS 2: StarSpectra," for electronic music on fixed medium with visuals, takes the listener beyond the borders of the ionosphere to a world of cosmic beauty. Coupled with slides of star spectragraphs, Clark summons the awe of the universe through sound.
"The Fourth Angel," commissioned for this concert, is based on Revelation 16:8, "The fourth angel emptied his bowl over the sun and it was made to scorch people with its flames...." Clark draws from a wide palette of compositional practices creating a seamless juxtaposition for acoustic instruments with synthetically created sound. Like other postmodern composers, he discards the notion of rational discourse of the classical ideal in favor of a sound painting that reaches our deepest emotions. Debra Reuter-Pivetta and trombonist Clark stilled the audience with a breathtaking performance. And in spite of dire predictions for the planet, Clark infuses a sense of hope, incorporating melodic material from Zuni dances for sunrise and sunset. Without question, this is a masterpiece.
This program brilliantly underscored the role of composer, performer and audience — not only in creating successful art, but celebrating the power of art to illuminate humanities greatest challenges.