A Fun Night at the Harris Theater

Jan. 16th, 2010 was a fun night. My 2009 piece, Towards the Flame, was performed for the third time by four members of one of the best chamber groups on the planet, the Chicago-based, Grammy-Award winning eighth blackbird (a complete recording of the piece is available under the recordings tab on this site). Scored for flute, violin, cello, and percussion, the four blackbirders performed the piece with intensity, refinement, and incredible attention to the details of my score. In these situations, all a composer can do is sit back and enjoy! My only fear going into the dress rehearsal was whether or not such a small ensemble would be heard (and felt) clearly in the 1500-seat Harris Theater. That concern was laid to rest at the dress rehearsal, and that night, Timothy Munro, Matt Albert, Nicholas Photinos, and Matthew Duvall gave a truly transporting rendition of the piece. I consider myself a lucky human being to have gotten to work with them, and I look forward to May 14th,  2010, when I get to work with them again at the Contempo concert at Fulton Hall when they premiere my new work, Night Rituals, this time for all six players. A big thank-you to Tim, Matt, Nick, and Matthew for playing the piece so unbelievably well, and for all of the people who came to the concert to hear the piece.

After my little piece opened the concert, we were treated to Bernard Rands’s gorgeous now again: fragments from Sappho, conducted by  Cliff Colnot with Suzanne Mentzer, mezzo-soprano. Among the many fascinating aspects of the score was the use of two vocalists as members of the ensemble (effortlessly executed by Nina Heebink, alto, and Amy Conn, soprano), whose role flowed seamlessly between that of instrument and quasi-Greek chorus. Hearing the piece made me look forward to this summer, when I will get the opportunity to work with Mr. Rands at the Tanglewood summer program.

Closing the first half of the concert was Yu-Hui Chang’s Binge Delirium for solo percussion, performed by Matthew Duvall of eighth blackbird, an artist of considerable range. In my mind, there are four classifications of people who play percussion instruments: drummer, percussionist, musician, and artist. Matthew Duvall is a bona fide artist, and got to show some of that range on Chang’s exciting piece, which could be described as a virtuosic and focussed study in the melodic capabilities of non-pitched percussion instruments.

The second half of the concert featured a fluid musical conversation between jazz pianist Kenny Werner and saxophonist Chris Potter. As Shulamit Ran said when introducing the second half of the concert, I was looking forward to the second half of the concert just as much as the first half, as Chris Potter has been one of my favorite saxophonists since I was in high school. The two great performers blurred the lines between composition and improvisation to such an extent that the performance had an almost magical effect on me, and very much did what the evening was intended to do: to re-consider the divide between new concert music and jazz. The only other time I had heard a duo so attuned to each other’s music-making was when I saw Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter at the Newport Jazz Festival after the release of their album 1+1 in 1997. Werner and Potter’s music was a superb way to close a really spectacular night.

You can read some reviews by other (potentially more objective) listeners online: Andrew Patner (Chicago Sun-Times), Lawrence A. Johnson (Chicago Classical Review), and jazzchicago.net (which also contains one photo of eighth blackbird playing the fourth movement of my piece) all reviewed the concert.

Featured Recordings

Live Performance by eighth blackbird

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for two alto saxophones, mallet percussion, and piano

live performance by Zach Herchen, Philipp Stäudlin, Ryan Packard, and Aaron Likness, June 26th, 2011

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