Let out of the cage is not just the musicians, but the composers too. These works twist convention and contort perceptions of what a piece of chamber music is. Even the audience is asked to play a different role in John Steinmetz’s Sorrow and Celebration for reed quintet and audience. Featuring composers with backgrounds in non-western improvisation, pop, and electronic music, as well as some strange titles, the program collects these ruptured shreds of chamber music and hands them to Akropolis, who reassembles them into a concert program perfectly suited to its energy and dynamism.
The 8 movements of Splinter (which emulate the form of a Baroque suite) are a contemporary example of economy of space both vertically and horizontally in music. Mellits describes his music as containing “driving rhythms, soaring lyricism, and colorful orchestrations,” which might seem difficult to capture all at once. In the case of his first work for reed quintet–formed in short miniatures like most of Mellits’ music–the listener experiences repetitious motives which, through subtle changes, create elongated phrases and broader musical structures. Even among the identical openings of movements 1 and 6 (as well as a few bars of directly transplanted content in movements 5 and 8), the listener gets a broader sense of the greater architecture in the work, even as motives continue to drive, repeat, and subtlety evolve. Mellits’ musical upbringing was varied, including rock and electronic music influences, which became a part of his musical instincts until and after his formal composition training began at age 18.
Composer Ned McGowan is a contemporary flutist as well, and his works are informed by improvisatory and non-western musical circles. So, his music contains complex and uneven rhythms as well as extended techniques for classical instruments. However, his music is also primal, and it contains as much rhythmic synchronicity and pulse as disjointedness. Wood Burn is largely inspired by the music of the band Meshuggah, a Swedish extreme metal band. The harmonic platform is a therefore dissonant half-step between the bass clarinet and bassoon, who also move in parallel minor thirds much of the piece. The rhythmic platform is a driving displacement of the expected beat emphasis, as if measures are always containing one too many or too few beats. Wood Burn serves as a foil to Splinter, and the aesthetics of these two contemporary composers shows how detailed and nuanced the usage of popular music influences in classical music can be. While Splinter drives with major harmonies and subtle harmonic shifts over time, Wood Burn is constantly dissonant, and though repetitive, it never stays in one place very long.
Closing the first half, Akropolis breaks itself apart and then reassembles again in Rob Deemer’s Gallimaufry. Commissioned by Akropolis to create a 10-minute work for its acclaimed third CD, The Space Between Us, Rob created early sketches which imitated a Dr. Seuss-like instrument that could break apart into different, smaller pieces, and then rejoin at will. The final product, Gallimaufry (which is a slang term for a hodgepodge, a jumbled medley, or stew), opens in perfect unison on the familiar note ‘C’, then allows for several interactive duets, a lush departure, and finally, a scintillating battle between all the parts which coalesce into a fabulous closing to the first half of this concert. Sorrow and Celebration for reed quintet and audiencep resents a social issue relevant today and allows us to experience it together, while teeming with both optimism and grief. Akropolis commissioned composer John Steinmetz in 2014, during a summer brimming with tension and opportunity in many American communities. The composer describes his early influences and how the piece evolved from them:
‘This piece imitates a ceremony or ritual, calling people together to mourn and rejoice. As I began composing, the deaths of two young African American men, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, were on my mind. The sorrow in this music started there, but it is meant to honor any grief, whether individual or shared.
After mourning, the music changes mood, eventually becoming dance-like. Sometimes sorrow, in bringing people together, can cut through the illusion of separateness, and that is cause for gratitude and celebration. And a Wendell Berry poem advises, ‘Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.’
When the music was nearly finished, I read about Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell’s transformative experience while returning from the moon. He described looking out at the earth and the vastness of space. ‘I became aware that everything that exists is part of one intricately interconnected whole.’
I am grateful to Akropolis for commissioning this piece, bringing it to life, helping to improve it, and for encouraging audience participation. To listeners, thank you for taking part!
In conclusion, we present the fresh and always thought-provoking music of Chiel Meijering. A composer who came to classical styles only in his early 20’s, Meijering’s music begs classical traditions to embrace the rhythmically driving, chorus-oriented world of popular music. Candy Box was originally a string quartet, but there are several versions today, including this one arranged by Akropolis for reed quintet.
Marc Mellits, Splinter (2014)
Ned McGowan, Wood Burn (2005)
Rob Deemer, Gallimaufry (2015)
John Steinmetz, Sorrow and Celebration for reed quintet and audience (2015)
Chiel Meijering, Candy Box (2009)