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You cannot do Beethoven forever. So spoke violinist Karen Strittmatter Galvin after a program in Murphy School’s Burning Coal Theater in which Beethoven had most certainly not been played. There she had joined five other colleagues calling themselves New Music Raleigh, forming “a collective of the area’s most dynamic musicians, dedicated to performing the works of living composers.” Thus began the second season for this adventuresome and accomplished group, an ensemble comprising the aforementioned violinist, bassist Emily Rupp, guitarist D.J. Sparr, pianist John Noel, percussionist Julia Thompson (marimba), and director/percussionist Shawn Galvin (vibraphone).
“I don’t know when I have enjoyed live music as much as this evening” was the fulsome praise one overheard from an obviously pleased attendee. He could perhaps have been referring to the opening “Cursed Motives” of composer J. Batzner, in which all instruments except the guitar come on one by one, the vibraphone leading, eventually featuring near-solo work by the violin. Or he might have been moved by Cameron Britt’s “Brocken Specter,” mainly a vibraphone solo with electronic accompaniment. “Penelope’s Song” by Judith Shatin led into intermission. Impressive here were the numerous “movements” featuring another masterly violin solo and computer-generated accompaniment, sometimes thunderous, always with an insistent and violent beat. The resulting sounds of these works would never be mistaken for the music of this world. But they imparted an undeniable charm, as well as perhaps a prophetic look into the future.
“Synchronize! Synchronize! Synchronize!” must have been the slogan as these musicians prepared the evening’s pieces. Their immense musical skills were evidently called upon as the “computer” accompaniment granted the performers no quarter.
Usually electronic feedback is considered a dreaded phenomenon to be dealt with in sound reproduction. But guitarist Sparr seemed able to harness such force to his advantage in Paul Lansky’s “Dance Tracks,” in which a distinctive rock beat prevailed. He required as much virtuosity on the electronics as on the guitar. Utilizing hands, feet and knees he commanded the most fearsome array of rheostats, potentiometers, semiconductors, and integrated circuits this side of Cape Canaveral. And he concurrently accompanied on the guitar, improvising as he proceeded with astonishing know-how.
The group’s press release quoted John Luther Adams to the effect that his music is now less “about place” and more toward “becoming place.” Such insight was helpful in appreciating that Alaska-based composer’s “The Farthest Place.” Piano, violin and bass provided the melodies of tundra, permafrost, and desolate splendor, while the vibes and marimba furnished the persistent cadence.
Here is a collection of top-drawer musicians who champion existing composers, “new” music. But be well advised. One of the evening’s pieces dated all the way back into the late twentieth century. Anyone interested in getting away from slice-of-life offerings, or in merely getting a glimpse ahead, should keep a sharp lookout for future appearances by New Music Raleigh.