Last night (Tuesday March 21) I attended the 1st Annual Capital M World Premieres Extravaganza at the Cutting Room (the Chris "Mr. Big" Noth co-owned club in East Chelsea). This was my first experience with Capital M, a composer group led by composer, Ian Moss. The concert featured the works of seven emerging composers, most of whom were unknown to me before last night: David Claman, Jennifer Fitzgerald, Monika Heidemann, Bradley Kemp, Ian Moss, Frank J. Oteri, Stefan Zeniuk. The works were performed by a variable chamber ensemble whose instrumentation was (mostly) influenced by contemporary rock music.
All of the compositions were very interesting and the musicians, who were asked to perform various stylistic influences as well as divergent approaches to the instrumentation, did an outstanding job. Of course I've already had first-hand experience with the wonderful musicianship of Sebastian Noelle (guitar), John Hadfield (drums), and Josh Sinton (saxes), as they have performed with my ensemble Numinous (and Numinous+) as well as working with Pulse. But I was also impressed with all the other musicians, particularly Bradley Kemp on electric bass and Kyle Sanna on guitar.
Before the program began, all seven composers introduced themselves and their compositions, giving some idea of what to expect before hearing the works. For the most part, I felt this panel discussion was less insightful about the pending compositions and more helpful in giving me an idea of what the composer's personalities were like. This made me eager to compare what I imagine the compositions would sound like, based on my impressions of what and how the composer introduced their piece, to the reality of what I hear.
The first piece was How terrible orange by Jennifer Fitzgerald and, as it turned out, was the most 'chamber music-y' of all of the pieces, if only because it was the only one of the seven to use piano and marimba, in addition to two guitars, tenor sax, voice, and percussion. The piece featured much dissonance (I enjoyed the guitar 'crunches') and rhythmic energy, and some especially pleasing moments (I liked the first lead up to when the marimba finally enters in a more subdued section of the piece).
The world premiere of A Letter's Tale by Stefan Zeniuk was next on the concert. This work was loosely based on Stravinsky's L'Historie du Soldat. In the program notes the composer states: "A Letter's Tale takes the formal structure and some of the emotive content of Stravinsky's composition, and uses it as merely a FORM, thus giving the piece a natural dramatic arc." The piece did have a good overall shape and knowing that the flow of the work was loosely following L'Historie did help me to unify the different stylistic streams that were going on, everything from 'classic rock' to free jazz.
Following A Letter's Tale, David Claman's work from 1995, Loose Canons for three electric guitars using e-bows ended the first half of the concert in a more contemplative mood. With the e-bows, the guitars could sustain pitches indefinitely and it was quite beautiful to hear the slowly moving (and sometimes surprising) harmonies that the guitars produced. While initially the sustaining guitars reminded me of Glenn Branca's work (minus the loud volume), ultimately the composition evoked the suspended animation feeling of some of Arvo Part's vocal work or perhaps the glacial paced orchestral compositions of John Luther Adams. While I did feel the piece was a bit too long, it was nonetheless quite effective and enjoyable.
After intermission the performance resumed with the world premieres of two shorter works. The first, Art by Ian Moss was a multi-metered, rock piece, which reminded me of some of the adventurous rock from the 70's (ala Rush or Yes) mixed with some of today's influences (the electronic layering from today's laptop artists), followed by Incoming Queen by Monika Heidemann, a composition which had more of a warped (in a good way) singer-songwriter sensibility (her piece could fit in well on WNYC's program Spinning on Air, where "passionate, personal, adventurous and uncatgorizeable" songwriters find radio airtime).
The final two pieces on the concert were completely different aesthetically but were two of my favorites overall (Loose Canons, would round out my top three): Air Around by Bradley Kemp and Imagined Overtures by Frank Oteri. Air Around was my favorite of the entire night. This quietly beautiful work drew me in right away as one guitarist, and eventually the second, began playing their guitars on their laps with (what looked like) chopsticks, creating a hammered dulcimer-like effect. As the piece continued, John Hadfield's rice bowls and Bradley Kemp's various wine bottles and other found objects created a lovely tintinnabulary atmosphere. With the very subdued and supportive prepared baritone saxophone playing of Josh Sinton, Air Around entered, existed for a thoughtful moment, and floated out in a fading, quiet mist. Quite exquisite.
Imagined Overtures, I enjoyed for almost the opposite reasons. It was quite loud and was probably the most rhythmically aggressive (and difficult) composition of the night. Not to mention that the work was written for three micro-tonal guitars (in the opening discussion, Frank said the tuning was a 36 note scale), electric bass, and drums and it was the last piece of an over 2 hour concert, all could have been a recipe for disaster. While Frank was helping everyone get the right tuning before the piece began, I wondered why this work was last and thinking about it, it would have been hard to follow Frank's composition with a tempered tuned work-it would have sounded out of tune. But the composition was anything but a disaster. In three parts-Natural Selection, Intelligent Design, and Exquisite Panic, Imagined Overtures was well played and exciting to listen to. The micro-tuning, after the initial "cringe" factor, actually was quite enjoyable to listen to; it really drew you in to its own tuning world. The sounds were very different with all of the harmonies sounding with more resolution (or maybe fuller is a more accurate adjective). In a fast-slow-fast arc, the piece was very satisfying and fun (after the second movement Intelligent Design, someone in the audience, showing their blue-state creds yelled out, "Darwin!").
Overall I really enjoyed the entire performance of Capital M and was hearten to know there are many souls "out there" who connect with good contemporary music. The audience was a healthy mix of young and old, musicians and not, who all came out and enjoyed a wonderful and affordable performance at a relaxed venue. Two years ago, I began Pulse with a goal of creating opportunities to perform creative new music and personally, it is great to see another community of emerging composers "out there" who are creating music not bound by category, who are also hoping to challenge and connect with the general public. I think there is something in the air and maybe music audiences are looking for more of what groups like Alarm will Sound, Capital M, Pulse, and others are offering. I look forward to hearing more from Capital M in the future.