I saw and heard the future of New Music on Sunday night, and I am happy to report the future is bright.
The Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble, which burst onto the scene with its fabulous 2007 performance (and followup recording) of Steve Reich‘s “Music for 18 Musicians”, filled (Le) Poisson Rouge last Sunday night with the sounds of another 20th Century classic — Terry Riley‘s “In C.”
Riley’s piece is more of a challenge than Reich’s because it is less structured, more mutable and highly shaped by the musical personality of the performers. The 15 talented players in GVSUNME — most of them students — played an engaging version that they made their own with the use of electronics and flourishes like a saxophone solo to open the performance.
Sunday’s concert was a celebration of the release of In C Remixed, GVSUNME’s double-CD recording of In C and 18 remixes by 16 artists. The ensemble’s recording of “In C” clocks in at just over 20 minutes. For Sunday’s concert, the group played for about an hour. That’s the other major variable of the piece — it’s written in such a way that it can be as long or short, within certain limits, as the players want it to be.
The performance was strong. It was not exactly what the group had hoped to present, but the performers made it work and the audience was clearly pleased with the result. One of the CD’s remixers, Dennis DeSantis, intended to remix the performance live, but discovered in rehearsal that it sounded “like mud.” So Dennis essentially joined the ensemble, triggering samples from a laptop and using it as another instrument to keep the all-important pulse.
Renaissance man R. Luke DuBois, another of the album’s remixers, provided a video mix on two screens that gave the performance some great extra visual interest — including displaying the musical notations of the composition’s “cells,” the repeated patterns that are the composition’s building blocks.
Two other “In C” remixers, violinist Todd Reynolds and bass clarinetist Michael Lowenstern opened the show in their recently revived partnership as the Slow Boys, performing five funky tunes, including a spectacular cover of Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints.”