UNCG’s School of Music, Theater, and Dance collaborated with New Music Greensboro to hold a Spring Mini-Fest on campus. Between March 22nd and 24th, the Mini-Fest held three free events including performances by new music ensemble, Present~Continuous with guest soprano, Clara O’Brien, and visiting composer/performer, Mike Snyder.
March 22 showcased performances by Present~Continuous, the one show I had the pleasure of seeing during the fest’s three day event. The venue took on a whole new meaning of the word intimate, consisting of only three rows of seating with nearly twenty chairs in each row, set on the same stage that Present~Continuous performed on. The group played three compositions. First, were excerpts from Arnold Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire,” Robin McLaughlin’s “Unbound,” and ending with Jennifer Higdon’s “Zaka.”
Arnold Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire” is a mixed medium composition, incorporating original French poems translated into German, with music from the flute, clarinet and bass clarinet, violin and viola, cello and piano. “Pierrot Lunaire” is a controversial ensemble — mocking religion and widely known as: “one of the oddest landmarks of music history.” The composition’s twenty one songs are broken into three sets of seven, with the first set revealing a moon-sickness, the second presenting Schoenberg as a victim and martyr and the last seven become a resolution.
Present~Continuous performed the “Pierrot Lunaire” with well-rehearsed ease. The first song, “Mondestrunken,” opened with a distressingly spoken and sung version of poetry written by Albert Giraud, performed by Clara O’Brien. At first, I did not see a connection between the poetry and the music, but as the performance progressed, the combination became a powerful and sporadic story of emotions. The separate pieces flowed into a distressing, yet enlightening mood. The flutist, Abigail Simoneau, was a force on stage, demanding audience members attention whenever she began to play.
Once the “Pierrot Lunaire” finished, the conductor – Alejandro Rutty – humorously remarked by speaking on the change in time period and composers “we are going from an old person whose dead, to a new person who is alive.” This was the introduction to Robin McLaughlin’s “Unbound.” McLaughlin is a young and contemporary composer that draws inspiration from narratives. McLaughlin’s “Unbound” is a recent piece, prepared in 2016. The composer stated, “Unbound is an exploration of both musical tension and tonality”.
“Unbound” was a fun piece, opening with constant progressions and perfectly-timed stops. The opening simultaneously showcased the furiously vibrating percussions by Isaac Pyatt, who was very precise with his motions. As the composition went on there were wonderful moments of tranquility, as played by solo the bass clarinetist and the violinist.
The last composition of the evening was Jennifer Higdon’s” Zaka.” An interesting collaboration of “driving and acrobatic rhythms,” with all members of the ensemble playing their instruments in unconventional ways. The term zaka means to do the following almost simultaneously and with great speed: zap, sock, race, turn, drop and sprint. The composition takes turns between speedy moments and quiet interludes, making many people say the piece is jolting, but in the best of ways.
This eclectic piece opened with a soft, ethereal sound, made by unorthodox methods. The percussionist sliding the edge of a cymbal, the clarinet’s mouth piece being repeatedly tapped, the quick breathes by the flutist and the pianist holding down piano chords with a card while playing their corresponding notes. Then, there are waves of progressions and calmness, all while the percussionist and the clarinetist highlight this song with their talents. Zaka ends with a complete 360 from the beginning, and comes to a powerful bang.
The rest of the Mini-Fest, held on March 23-24, featured composer/ performer, Mike Snyder. On the night of March 23rd, Snyder performed a multi-media concert consisting of instrumentals, singing, video, and live electronics.
Here at UNCG, the beginning of Spring was welcomed with a mix of past and contemporary classical music. Luckily, UNCG’s School of Music, Theater and Dance have a few more great concerts on the horizon before summer officially comes around.