Hailed as “Pure gold” by the San Francisco Chronicle and released in March, 2017, The Space Between Us is Akropolis’ third CD release, exploring musical, social, and abstract concepts of space between music, musicians, and audience members.
Akropolis developed this album concept and subsequent concert program around four works it commissioned from 2014-15 and one previously completed reed quintet work from 2003. The Space Between Us contains various sound universes, each the object of a composer whose musical creation connects musical instruments, concepts, and people. As if refracting light, Akropolis absorbs each soundscape and re-transmits it through the ensemble’s vast, yet unified array of colors, sound devices, and interpretive possibilities. Opening the program, Rob Deemer uses each instrument as a different, unique zone, considering its timbre, volume envelope, and articulations. In Gallimaufry, he combines them to allow the listener to hear each instrument’s singular color as well as the reed quintet’s combined palette. When conceiving this work and beginning to compose it, Deemer announced to Akropolis his vision of the piece and of the reed quintet: A giant Dr. Seuss-like instrument that could break apart into smaller pieces, morph and evolve, then return to its original form. “Gallimaufry” is a word which means “hodge-podge” or a gumbo or stew.
Jacob TV’s Jesus is Coming (Veldhuis often goes by this alternative stage name), combines live reed quintet performance with a pre-recorded tape of sound samples which TV has crafted into a singular track. The track contains looped baby talk from two Dutch girls, a street evangelist in Times Square in the wake of 9/11, and a Salvation Army choir heard in the streets of New York City. Known for a series of these “ghettoblaster” works, the composer is able to assemble these disparate sounds into a groove which is as catchy as it is provocative.
Closing the first set, Greg Wanamaker’s The Space Between Us is the culmination of several years of listening and learning between the composer and the performers. Familiar with Wanamaker’s prolific compositions for wind instruments, Akropolis approached Wanamaker to compose a longer form reed quintet work, and after exchanging sound samples and discussing the album concept, Wanamaker began constructing a work consisting of five continuous movements. The Space Between Us abstractly expresses the emotional qualities contained in the movement titles, but also paints a larger tapestry of our psychology on the whole. The work does not explicitly convey meaning, but rather touches deeper, primal sensibilities about us, and our world we live in together.
The second set opens with David Biedenbender’s boisterous new work, Refraction. In this work, “refraction” refers to the splitting of ideas as well as to the type of assembly the composer uses in this piece. Sounds are almost taped and glued together, and at times they seem to pour out from the central texture of the piece. The composition melds several genres, including death metal and Gregorian chant, but never fully boxes them in. “Death Metal Chicken” is inspired by a popular YouTube video of a howling rooster with death metal music being played in the background. The “Kyrie” shimmers with ancient qualities. The final movement, “Goat Rodeo”, refers directly to a chaotic situation that might come to a resolution, but not willingly so. Biedenbender not only re-purposes various genres and combines them with brilliant colorations; he creates a fully-formed, new object which could never be as brilliant without the tatters and shreds which seem to be falling from it.
Closing the program, Akropolis unites performer and audience with John Steinmetz’s first reed quintet composition, Sorrow and Celebration for reed quintet and audience.Seeking to engage all players in the musical community in his work, composer John Steinmetz writes:
“This piece imitates a ceremony or ritual, calling people together to mourn and rejoice. As I began composing, the deaths of 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!
Rob Deemer, Gallimaufry (2015)
Jacob Ter Veldhuis, Jesus is Coming for reed quintet and ghettoblaster (2003)
Gregory Wanamaker, The Space Between Us (2016)
David Biedenbender, Refraction (2015)
John Steinmetz, Sorrow and Celebration for reed quintet and audience (2015)