Musica Nova, Eastman?s contemporary music ensemble, performed for a packed Kilbourn Hall this past Monday.
The concert featured one of America?s best known and most praised living composers, John Adams. Adams discussed his three programmed works ? ?Chamber Symphony,? ?Shaker Loops? and ?China Gates.?
The first thing I noticed about Musica Nova was not their music but their attire. Their clothing ranged from leopard-print hats to Hawaiian shirts.
Adams himself even remarked that the most exciting part of the concert was not going to be his music, but rather the ?sinister footwear? of some of the musicians ? or, in some cases, the lack thereof.
The concert began with Studies for Player Piano Nos. 2 and 9 by contemporary composer Conlon Nancarrow.
These two pieces are wrought with rhythmic complexity and a heavy jazz influence. Led by Brad Lubman, the group played masterfully.
At this point, Adams took the stage to explain the motivation behind the next work on the program, one of his own.
He described ?Shaker Loops? as a musical description of a Shaker ceremony in which the participants ?shake? as fast as they can in order to achieve a physical and spiritual epiphany.
The piece is constructed with literal loops where each performer repeats a short unit of music until cued to the next by the conductor.
Again, the group performed wonderfully even during the more frenzied moments of the piece. With bows and bodies flailing, the performers themselves conjured up images of the old Shaker ceremony.
At the end of the performance, they received a well-deserved roar of approval from the audience.
After intermission, pianist Tom Rosenkranz took the stage to perform ?China Gates.? The piece uses the idea of ?gating,? which Adams described as the musical equivalent of an electric current abruptly switched on and off. In the piece, ?gating? occurs with sudden harmonic modulation and expressive flashes.
Rosenkranz did an excellent job portraying these ?gates? with a very expressive, yet calculated, performance.
The highlight of the program was definitely Adams?s ?Chamber Symphony.? Adams again took the stage to describe his inspiration for this piece. He recalled that it had just been his son?s sixth birthday, so there had been 25 little boys running all over his house. The following day he sat down to review a Schoenberg score that he had been preparing for performance, when he suddenly heard cartoon music coming from the room next door. This culmination of sounds and ideas let to the creation of the piece.
As you can imagine, the piece is very energetic. Keeping in suit with the rest of the concert, Musica Nova put on a stellar performance. It is amazing that the performers had any energy left following the third movement, which is aptly named ?Road Runner.?
?Seeing live music is one thing,? said fourth-year Eastman graduate student Seth Broadsky, who was also in the audience for the performance. ?Seeing live music performed by a living composer is another. It?s tremendous ? the music comes alive.?
Musica Nova puts on a first-rate show. Even if you are not a fan of contemporary music, if you go with an open mind and judge the music by what the composer is trying to portray, you will have an excellent time.