On Thursday, February 11, 2016, Contemporaneous, the new music chamber orchestra that now makes its home in New York City, presented its program, Laws of Nature, in an incredibly cool-looking Brooklyn venue, Pioneer Works. The next night, to my grateful hosannas, Contemporaneous came home to the Hudson Valley—to Tivoli, a stone’s throw from Bard College, where the orchestra’s life began. Tivoli is one of those small Hudson Valley villages of unassuming, arty charm. I’ve visited its main street eateries, shops, and gallery many times, yet I hadn’t known about Murray’s, a former church converted into a concert space, café, and art gallery, and let me tell you, as soon as I walked in the door, I was ready to move in.
Contemporaneous chose for its program four works by an international roster of composers: Icelandic Anna Thorvaldsdottir (b. 1977), Australian Kate Moore (b.1979), Canadian Fjóla Evans (b. 1987 in Iceland), and Californian Joanna Newsom (b. 1982). As you’ve probably noted, all four happen to be women. Evans, whose work Contemporaneous commissioned, came in from Toronto especially to introduce her piece.
From a front row seat I marveled, yet again, as the unequaled miracle of live performance in a felicitous setting revealed itself before my ears and eyes. At Murray’s Sanctuary, with its excellent acoustic, musicians and listeners are enveloped in a unique intensity of connection, and the sublime physicality of music-making comes alive as it does nowhere else. In a larger hall, the force of live performance, precious gift though it is, can be blunted: I have too often had the experience in large halls of music “over there” while I am “way back here.” Sitting in the front rows can be aurally exhilarating, but visually, I crane my neck for a view of musicians’ feet and the underside of a sea of stands.
Not so at Murray’s. I could see, as well as hear, the musicians of Contemporaneous enact Thorvaldsdottir’s sounds and shapes, redolent, for me, of watching spring break open on the Hudson River, with jagged ice floes piling on one another and dispersing along currents of trapped water newly freed. I could see, as well as hear, Moore’s sounds and rhythms swell from strings through winds and brass to the tier above, where Amy Garapic and Matt Evans worked percussive alchemy, while behind me Eric Farber‘s sculpture sounded harsh disruptions in Colin Davin‘s adept hands. I could see, as well as hear, the liquid elegance of Lucy Dhegrae’s voice emerge from the lovely night-lull of Evans’s Nótt. I could see, as well as hear, Newsom’s harp-notes transformed by Dylan Mattingly’s orchestral rendering as Finnegan Shanahan rose bodily to caress each note of text with pellucid voice. And I could see, as well as hear, David Bloom conduct with precise, balletic grace, his hands gathering in each note and sending it aloft.
Contemporaneous is, by now, “my tribe.” I’ve come to know many of its composers, musicians, and ever-growing community of listeners. I’ve watched Contemporaneous evolve from a group of highly talented students with a passion for new music into a thoroughly professional, consummately focused, chamber orchestra that is buoyantly alive to the music it performs.
All this I could see, as well as hear, from arrival out of the bitter cold into a sanctuary suffused with warmth through the moment when David Bloom, describing a graceful arc in the air, summoned the orchestra’s members to stand and, in perfect unison, take a well-earned bow.
Audio and video of music by Kate Moore may be found here.
Audio and video of music by Fjóla Evans may be found here.
A review of the concert may be found here.
Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s album Rhízōma, on which Streaming Arhythmia appears, may be found on Spotify here.
On YouTube and Elsewhere
Anna Thorvaldsdottir: Streaming Arhythmia (2007) (This is the work Contemporaneous performed at the concert.)
You may also hear Streaming Arhythmia here.
Joanna Newsom: Sawdust and Diamonds (2006) (This is the work Contemporaneous performed at the concert, in an arrangement for orchestra by Dylan Mattingly. The text, which Finnegan Shanagan performed from memory, may be found here.)
Credits: The source for the photograph at the head of the post may be found here. The photographs in the slideshow are mine.