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New Music New College concert series explores new musical territory

Shows like “Dis/Embodied" use innovative approaches and offer a low ticket price to attract a wide variety of people.

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Stephen Miles and Ron Silver, the driving forces behind the New Music New College concert series, say they’re not satisfied with giving Sarasota music audiences a taste of something new.

They want to serve a whole feast.

Silver says the series grew out of a challenge. In 1998, the Ringling showcased a Joseph Beuys exhibition. That experimental German artist had a connection with John Cage, the experimental American composer. The museum tapped New College’s music program to explore that connection. Miles, a music professor,  gladly accepted the challenge.

Festival Director Stephen Miles performs in “?Corporel” in 2006. Courtesy photo
Festival Director Stephen Miles performs in “?Corporel” in 2006. Courtesy photo

The result was a happening — a one-time performance of Cage’s “Song Books” at the heart of the Ringling’s exhibition. Different musicians played selections and took their own paths through the galleries. Audience members decided which path they’d follow. The concert experience was never the same for any two listeners.

The experience was electrifying — and lightning struck twice. At the museum’s invitation, New College returned the following year for a performance of Pauline Oliveros’ mesmerizing “Sonic Meditations,” another edgy work that demanded audience participation. 

NMNC has continued in the same interactive spirit ever since.

“Our series is a conversation, not a lecture,” says Silver, the series producer. “It’s never a passive sit-back-and-listen experience. The audience helps shape the music. We create the experience together.”

The series comprises five concerts a year. The program incorporates new compositions and inventive staging and orchestrations of existing work. “We create fresh context,” says Silver. “You may think you’ve heard a piece before, but you really haven’t.”

The festival also mixes repeat performers and new faces. “It’s a balancing act,” Silver says. “We draw on a circle of amazing musicians and composers. That circle keeps growing every year.”

This month’s “Dis/Embodied” concert showcases both sides of the mind/body equation. Miles, the director, will use his own body as a percussion instrument in a solo performance of Vinko Globokar’s “?Corporel.”

“Steve will be making all the sounds you hear with his hands on his body and a little bit of vocal work.”

Silver will perform Roger Marsh’s “Dum,” also a solo work. “It’s another piece that makes you aware of the performer’s body,” he says. “The composer has fragmented and reassembled poems and prayers by John Donne, Christina Rossetti, Dante and others. As you listen, you might recognize short words and phrases. A personality gradually emerges.”

Courtesy photos Festival Director Stephen Miles and Producer Ron Silver — Courtesy photo
Courtesy photos Festival Director Stephen Miles and Producer Ron Silver — Courtesy photo

The concert’s centerpiece is Luciano Berio’s “Thema (Omaggio a Joyce),” a tribute to the “Sirens” chapter of James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” Berio composed this work for a unique musical instrument — the tape recorder. Silver observes that, “It’s Cathy Berberian’s recorded voice — again, chopped up and spliced together by Berio.” This piece will be accompanied by original dance interpretation by Xiao-Xuan Yang Dancigers. “This time, it’s music made without the body,” he says. “On the other hand, you have a body moving in front of you as you listen to the music.”

Silver adds these solo works will be interspersed with brief group performances. These will feature short dances by New College students to electronic music composed by other New College students.

Silver says this pioneering concert is what NMNC is all about.

“We have a die-hard audience,” he says. “We try to expand that audience to different ages and groups. That’s why our tickets are only $15. Accessibility equals affordability. It’s a very simple formula.”

NMNC caters to the hunger for new music. Silver’s quick to add they’re not the only game in town.

“It’s not all us,” he says. “There’s contemporary dance, music and theater all over Sarasota — and we love it. More people in town are getting exposure to fresh, new work at many other venues. We don’t see it as a zero-sum game or a competition. We think it’s really cool.”





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