On March 7, 2015, Contemporaneous reached a new milestone: the ensemble turned five years old, and it did so with a flourish. Curt Barnes and Prufrock report:
Contemporaneous offered a very satisfying chamber concert at The DiMenna Center for Classical Music in New York City on March 7, 2015. Called “Self Portrait,” it featured five works by members of the performing/composing group Contemporaneous, formed at Bard College in the Hudson Valley five years ago, and it commemorated the ensemble’s very productive existence thus far. I own and value a CD of Dylan Mattingly’s music, performed by Contemporaneous, but hadn’t heard the group first-hand before.
The first piece for chamber orchestra was “Impulses” (2015), by clarinetist Vicente Alexim (b. 1987), which sounded initially inchoate and mysterious but eventually built to a series of powerful, wrenching fortissimos the likes of which were unfamiliar and innovative. The finale consisted of several precisely but unevenly spaced silences punctuated by complex chords, a very memorable conclusion that showcased David Bloom’s dynamic and masterly conducting, not to mention the attentiveness of his charges. This was only one of several visible lessons to us all in the importance of his station in a program no doubt full of performing complexities, among which “Impulses” was a standout, and I hope to hear it again.
The second piece, by percussionist Matt Evans (b. 1988), was called “Still Life for Ensemble” (2015) and focused, as the composer expressed, on creating a state that approached the stasis of a physical object, rather than a movement in time, closer to painting than to music as usually conceived. A low-key piece that made use of subtle changes called “melodic factorials” and featuring a mallet instrument, it recalled the more intelligent and well-constructed music of what is generically known as New Age.
Tamzin Ferré Elliott’s (b. 1992) piece, “Gloria Nightwatch and The Ghost” (2015), combined this Bard undergraduate’s (!) literary and musical gifts, and came in five sections. The first, “The Letter,” was a stream-of-consciousness monologue by a fraught woman reading a letter while walking, and the effective recitation was heightened and reinforced by the ensemble accompaniment. Lucy Dhegrae was at her most dramatic and prepossessing for this performance, upon which followed a series of songs for “Andy,” apparently the object of erstwhile affection and implicit writer of the letter, which songs recalled pop, Broadway, and various genres to my wife and me. With all this, Dhegrae revealed still more facets to her versatility, capturing the pop idioms with conviction and verve.
My personal highlight of the evening, though, was the string-quintet performance of Dylan Mattingly’s (b. 1991) “Lighthouse (Refugee Music by a Pacific Expatriate)” (2010), featured on the Contemporaneous CD I own. As I expected, it was more intense and vivid live (as what performance is not?) with its note-bending, shifting, and involving dramatic structure. Written when he was only 19, it bodes well indeed for a long life’s engagement with new music. Mattingly’s piece reminded me of what seemed to distinguish this young generation (20-30 years old) from their predecessors: their unselfconsciousness about being either “modern,” “cutting-edge” or “serious.” They are all of those things, but naturally, with no apologies or regrets. Consequently audiences are surely less likely to be intimidated or self-conscious themselves, and simply use their ears. As did we, to worthwhile effect!
We couldn’t stay for the last work, alas, Finnegan Shanahan’s “Water Cycle (Music for a Hudson River Railroad Dream-Map),” but Prufrock was there to report.
Prufrock (a/k/a Susan Scheid):
Finnegan Shanahan’s (b. 1993) piece, “Water Cycle (Music for a Hudson River Railroad Dream-Map)” (2015), might be characterized as “indie” (though my terminology about such things is foggy, to say the least). The 35-minute piece, which will be released on the much-respected New Amsterdam Record label in 2016 (for which it is a perfect fit), showed off Shanahan’s compositional talents including, among other things, attractive lyrical lines, appealing orchestration, and a fine sense of rhythm, as well as his multi-varied talents as a lyricist and musician (in this case, plucked electrified violin, acoustic guitar, keyboard, and voice). The ensemble performed beautifully and with considerable panache.
The event, the first in a three-concert series, was superbly organized and celebratory in every sense (including fabulous baked treats from Bloom’s mom and excellent punch, courtesy Mattingly’s mom). Speaking as someone who has followed this ensemble from almost the beginning of its life at Bard, this event had a very special meaning that’s almost impossible for me to convey in words. I remember, for example, two fellows at a concert I attended recalling how, in the early days, Bloom and Mattingly had gone through the dorms at Bard, knocking on doors to invite classmates to attend. I also remember watching Bloom emerge as the ensemble’s full-time conductor. The group created this ensemble on their own to play the music they cared about most and wanted us to hear. A large ensemble like this is devilishly hard to maintain—yet here it is, five years on, and going strong.
The anniversary program was in some sense high risk, as all except Mattingly’s piece were world premieres showcasing the compositional talents of core members and longtime associates of the ensemble. What came through loud and clear were the ensemble’s tremendous versatility, fine musicianship, focus, and incredibly rich and varied talent, as well as the powerful commitment to creating and fostering an ever-expanding community among composers, musicians, and listeners. It’s been a privilege to be one of the ensemble’s listeners, and I can’t wait for what comes next.
For information about the program, the featured composers, the musicians, and Contemporaneous, click here.
To listen to the 2012 recording of Dylan Mattingly’s Lighthouse, click here (© 2012 Contemporaneous and Dylan Mattingly; used with kind permission). For more information about the Stream of Stars: Music of Dylan Mattingly CD, click here.
As audio and video of the March 7, 2015, concert become available, additional links for listening will be added to this post.