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Entering Reynolds Industries Theatre early on June 29, to the accompaniment of "Drums in the Lobby," played by music interns Austin Patton, Kathryn Pruitt, and Patrick Wagner, we encountered a longtime patron who volunteered, "This is the evening we all have fun?" Her question got no answer as it was my first time at The Musicians Concert.It was no ordinary concert. The annual program, which features musicians of the ADF Six-Week School, consists of music contrived by composers for the dance, yet no dance is featured. Only those with open imaginative minds should bother to attend. This is music for the next generation - the one that begins with the 21st century. Dare I call it "Duke Blues" in deference to the background light of Duke blue projected as the set?
Shades of these blues began with "May Rain" by composer Lou Harrison and words by Elsa Gidlow. Performer Natalie Gilbert commented that the work resembles a river at the delta, and listening to it, we become the ocean. I can add nothing to that apt explanation. Poetry was projected on the backdrop as she performed her own "To Lou and John," the poems from an exchange between the late Lou Harrison and his friend and collaborator, John Cage. All of the above appeared to be inspired by the music of Cage and were assertively performed.
"Tibetan Sketch" by composer darren gage (lower case intended; the NJ-based composer studies with Charles Wuorinen) was next performed by Kimberly Nicole Barja on marimba and Tibetan instruments against the Duke-blue light. The following is a direct quote from the program notes, so thorough a description being far removed from my knowledge of these instruments. "'Tibetan Sketch' is written for marimba, 3 prayer bowls and 4 separate finger cymbals. This piece was inspired by a trip to South Asia that I took earlier this year, during which I discovered these beautiful sounds. The Tibetan instruments are more than mere novelty, however, as the entire piece is based on a 6-note chord expressed by the ringing metal instruments. The marimba's function is to both amplify and comment on these ethereal metal sounds. The opening section explores the resonance of the marimba, prayer bowls and finger cymbals. The middle section is for marimba alone, with the closing section reconnecting the marimba with the Tibetan instruments." Barja held my mesmerized attention throughout.
"Evening Metal Bloom" was performed by Ken Ray Wilemon, and the program says parenthetically "(extra voices channel-surfed from the ether)". My notes, written in pitch-black darkness, say "struck metal," "struck gongs," "palpitations," "shrill whistle," and "frequency warbling." I whispered to my companion, "People with open minds should attend this concert." He responded, "And closed ears." My open mind was obviously open-ended as well, as I can offer nothing to embellish those comments.
Parental guidance is advised for excerpts from "Last Days In Vegas" (2003), composed and performed by Allison Leyton-Brown, using the wrenching words by Sophia Chapadjiev: "Dumb baby; dumb baby has stretched my hips; gonna ruin my life." This contrasts with an attitude change realized in the second half of "Last Days in Vegas" when the 18-year-old hotel clerk returns to life singing these approximate words: "Guess I'll never know blue or pink or name.... I'm a selfish girl. I was screwed up anyway. But I think I would have learned to love you. Six months wasn't enough time to get used to you. You deserve so much more than me." This was intended to shock and move the audience and was entirely successful.
Words haven't yet been coined to describe the transformation of Louis Prima's "Sing, Sing, Sing" and "Mambo Jambo" by Perez Prado as arranged by Gregg Gelb and presented by John Hanks, percussion, members of the Gregg Gelb Band, and guests. The sound is definitely 2003 and not dated by the year of the original compositions. This may indeed be the way to lead the current generation to revere more and more of the old chestnuts of pop culture. There is a cutting edge to the sound that one might describe it as "Gregg Gelb." He has definitely found a sound as did Glenn Miller who, as the story goes, was looking for his. It is not for old-time jazz purists who still like the old sound.
"Ghania" by composer Mathias Schmidt was listed as "intermission performance," which simply meant that people could walk around and come and go ad lib during Patric Wagner's opportunity to be superimposed against the blue light. His efforts at the marimba didn't go unappreciated by me, a church organist accustomed to making prelude and postlude music in the same space as the sound of coming and going and conversation. "The melodies and rhythms of this piece are derived from and inspired by the music of Ghana," according to program notes. What I could hear was professionally accomplished and representative of its source.
The first title after intermission was begun in lower case: "interesting. Please do not hesitate" and defined as "LAPTOP ELECTRONICS: Chris Peck." Presumably it was Peck who sat in profile across from the laptop as wild, creative kaleidoscopic projections raced over the blue backdrop. We wondered if we were surfing his mind, perhaps - it was not exactly the internet. The projections were accompanied by undulating sounds intermingled with those of punctuation and with thunderous sounds, perhaps ocean waves crashing?
"Dance At the Gates" by Alan Terricciano enjoyed its premiere performance by the composer, staged against true Duke blues. The dedication was "for Stephanie," in memory of ADF's Stephanie Reinhart, whose untimely end-date was 2002. Terracciano writes: "Inspired by the music of Lou Harrison and fondly dedicated to the memory of Stephanie Reinhart. Unburdened, may she dance forever." My notes say "new meaning to the blues: rising, falling, dramatic fade away." Only the concert music has faded away - Reinhart dances on!
"Percussion Dialogue" billed as traditional, arranged by Khalid Saleem, was the finale, so the program ended - as it does, traditionally, I am told - with the African drummers.
I was impressed to learn from the head of that specialty at Duke that he studied with Olatunji in New York. I'll never forget the excitement of "Olatunji and His Drums of Passion" so I am delighted that the tradition lives on at Duke and shall watch for the recital in the fall.
Other musicians who took part in this program included Jerome Begin, Beverly Botsford, and Chris Lancaster.
The program's virtual epilogue commentary is very appropriate as related to the direction of contemporary music: "The Bend in the Road is not the End of the Road unless you fail to make the turn."