Peek into the minds of NMNC Director Stephen Miles and Producer Ron Silver to see what they're looking forward to this season.
New Music New College is gearing up for its 2019-2020 concert series. As the title implies, it’s a festival of new music. Director Stephen Miles and producer Ron Silver are the driving force behind it. And when they say “new music,” they’re not kidding. Keeping the music new is an art form all on its own — that’s why Miles and Silver keep mixing things up. By design, the festival’s featured composers are on the cutting-edge, but they’re not all coming from the same place.
Its stellar musicians are a constellation of ensembles and solo artists, high-profile guests and homegrown talents. They create their music with a galaxy of instruments, new and old media, genres, attitudes, artistic collaborations and performance spaces.
This eclectic imperative is a lot of hard work. But it pays off.
Thanks to this relentless code-switching, you’re in for five edgy concerts with zero repetition. Because no two NMNC concerts are ever the same.
Even if you’ve attended the NMNC series in the past, you still haven’t heard anything like it. So
what’s new this year? Don’t ask me. To know, you have to go.
The drive is worth it, and your ears will thank you.
Until then, here are a few liner notes on the NMNC concerts ahead.
This youthful quartet plays to a different drummer. Literally. Think two pianos and two drums brought to life by four amazing talents: percussionist Ian Antonio, pianist Laura Barger, percussionist Russell Greenberg and pianist Ning Yu. “They work within the framework of a highly unusual instrumentation,” Silver says. “If you investigate the repertoire for this instrument combination, you’ll find that it’s almost nonexistent. Yarn/Wire had to create its own repertoire by commissioning original pieces.” For this concert, the group will play Klaus Lang’s luminous “Molten Trees” (2017) and Misato Mochizuki’s tempestuous “Le monde” (2015).
Jack Quartet is a string quartet. The powerhouse lineup includes violinist Christopher Otto, violinist Austin Wulliman, violist John Pickford Richards and cellist Jay Campbell. Good to know. But if that’s all you know, you don’t know Jack. According to Silver, this ensemble has won a shelf of major music awards for good reason. They deserve it. “Musicianship is baked into their DNA,” he says. “They eat, live and breathe music — and the tougher [the music is], the better. They’ll take a piece that might seem impossibly challenging then play it with such command that the audience will be on its feet.” For this concert, Jack will tackle contemporary, avant-garde compositions, such as “The Alchemist” by the mercurial John Zorn. Great pieces all. But no easy pieces.
‘Living and Dead: The Gettysburg Project’
The Battle of Gettysburg was the bloodiest conflict of the Civil War. How do you speak to that? On Nov. 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln did his best with a short speech: the Gettysburg Address. A mere 272 words marking 5,112 casualties on both sides. In 2009, choreographer Margaret Eginton and composer Stephen Miles captured the heart of Lincoln’s words in “Living and Dead” — an experimental theater piece that weaves a tapestry of movement, sound and speech. This year’s two reprise presentations will showcase a small student ensemble in a theater-in-the-round setting. “Are the forces that hold us together as a nation stronger than the forces that threaten to tear us apart?” Miles says. “That question seemed timely in 2009. Sadly, it’s even more timely now.”
Jen Shyu: ‘Nine Doors’
What can Jen Shyu do? What can’t she do? This polymath phenomenon is a composer, multi-instrumentalist, dancer and vocalist. Shyu’s “Nine Doors” draws from all of her talents. Her stunning solo presentation tells the tale of a shadow puppeteer’s daughter who transcends tragedy with the aid of legendary Timorese and Korean heroines. Throughout her time-bending odyssey, Shyu dances, sings songs in eight languages and plays a world of instruments, from the Taiwanese moon lute to the Korean soribuk drum. (It’s easy to see why Shyu was selected as a Hermitage Artist Retreat fellow in 2018 and a Guggenheim Fellow in 2019.) Although her artistry is lofty, the artist is never aloof. To stress her accessibility, New College will transform its Harry Sudakoff Conference Center into “Club Sudakoff” — a jazzy, intimate nightclub complete with mood lighting.
To create this project, two of New College’s professors took a giant leap outside their comfort zones. Mark Dancigers teaches digital arts and music; Kim Anderson teaches visual art. Ordinarily, they live in separate worlds. What happens when they join forces? They decided to find out — and quickly enlisted their respective students in their creative collaboration. This mesmerizing, multimedia mash-up is the result. The eye candy includes an animated unicorn retracing the steps of Muybridge’s 1878 photographic study of a horse in motion. The audible feast includes digital compositions (by Dancigers and his students) and a sizzling set by the Grand Electric duo (featuring Dancigers on electric guitar and Aaron Wunsch on piano).
Correction: Aaron Wunsch's name was spelled incorrectly in the Sept. 5 print version of this story.