Sunday, September 25, 2011

Contemporaneous Rising!

Last night at the Chapel of the Holy Innocents at Bard College, the ensemble Contemporaneous reached a thrilling new milestone in the annals of contemporary music.  The concert, entitled The Roots Run Deep, featured the work of three young composers:  Gabriella Smith and Dylan Mattingly (both b. 1991), and Shawn Jaeger, the elder statesman of the group (b. 1985).  The composers were all on hand to introduce their works.

Smith’s atmospheric piece, Kisiabaton (2010), for oboe and string quartet, took its inspiration from beat poet Gary Snyder’s poem of the same name.  Her composition elegantly evoked the Californian landscape and native people about which Snyder wrote.  The piece was nimbly played by a quartet of Contemporaneous members, and Rafael Isaac Monge Zúñiga played oboe with jaw-dropping virtuosity.

Jaeger weighed in with a song cycle, Letters Made with Gold (2010-2011).  The piece, for soprano and chamber ensemble, took as its settings poems of Robert Burns, Charles Wesley, and a Cecil Sharp transcription of an old Appalachian folksong.  From this he wove an entrancing web of melody, inspired, in particular, by Old Regular Baptist hymnody.  Lucy Dhegrae’s heavenly soprano was ably accompanied by members of Contemporaneous and expertly conducted by David Bloom.

Post intermission was given over to Dylan Mattingly’s Atlas of Somewhere on the Way to Howland Island (2010-2011).  Mattingly took his initial inspiration for the piece from, of all things, an entry in wikipedia about Howland Island.  An airstrip was built on the island for Amelia Earhart, “but she disappeared somewhere along the way.”  The airstrip, subsequently bombed by the Japanese in World War II, was never used.

From this offbeat beginning, Mattingly has composed a work for chamber orchestra of phenomenal scope.  The two-part work, consisting of Radial Liftoff Music for Amelia Earhart and Islanded in a Stream of Stars, is scored for chamber orchestra and includes, along with more traditional instruments, a toy piano and a quarter-tone harp.

Mattingly’s own words describe this sublime composition better than any I might choose, so here is an excerpt from the program notes:
Atlas of Somewhere on the Way to Howland Island is for all those voyagers between horizons; for those—past and present—who have flown into storms, for those floating dreamscapes out beyond the curvature of the sunrise, for those that reach escape velocity, for when even your endless arms can’t rearrange the constellations.
David Bloom, in a virtuosic turn as conductor, drew an electrifying performance from the Contemporaneous ensemble, which played the whole evening at the top of their already fine form.  Here is a small excerpt from the beginning of the work:

By my lights, Dylan Mattingly, young as he is, has, with Atlas, earned his place in the pantheon of contemporary American composers.

For an encore, Contemporaneous sent us waltzing out the door with Bear McCreary’s Passacaglia.  With Bloom again conducting, Contemporaneous filled the hall with luscious sound.

This barnstormer of a program was repeated Sunday at Galapagos Art Space in Brooklyn, New York.  Early reports indicate that it was another spectacular night for Contemporaneous.

Musical Barnstormers David Bloom & Dylan Mattingly

Credits and Postscript:  The quotations about Atlas are from the program notes for The Roots Run Deep.  The opinions expressed are my own.  I'm not a professional, nor am I engaged by anybody to do this.  I'm an ordinary listener, happy to be able to bear witness to extraordinary music that is being composed right now.

More music by Contemporaneous, including a performance of Mattingly's Lighthouse, can be found on the Contemporaneous youtube channel.


Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Susan:
It is truly inspiring to read about such prodigious young talent. From composer to conductor and all players of the orchestra in between, there was clearly much to delight and engage in this musical programme.

We often attend diploma concerts of students at the Liszt Academy here in Budapest and one is constantly amazed at the professionalism and confidence with score and instrument of these young people.

WE do so hope that this early talent goes on to develop into full maturity.

Towanda said...

Unfortunately, I don't know contemporary music at all, but found Dylan Mattingly's "Atlas" very interesting. I say "interesting" simply I don't have the vocabulary to describe what I heard, but I enjoyed it. Maybe I'll give it a few more listenings so I can discover new.

Oh, and I also plan to listen to Gabriella Smith. Gary Snyder is one of my favorite poets.

It's always fun to discover new things!

Thanks for sharing this.

Mark Kerstetter said...

Wish I could have been there. Your video reveals a glimpse of what appears to have been an inspiring event.

Maggie Asfahani Hajj said...

This was fascinating! I can't believe how old I am getting, though. :) I am always inspired to see creative young people who have interests other than beeping electronic devices and handheld games. (Not to sound ancient, or anything...!) And actual compositions! I can't even use Garage Band!

David said...

How good it would be if Dylan Mattingly really was the best thing to happen to American music since John Adams (also in the visionary line at times...) I'd so hoped Nico Muhly would fit the bill, but I haven't heard any solid proof yet. Will investigate further, and thanks for the signpost.

My love to Bard College, too...

Friko said...

I am impressed!
This group of young people deserves to go far.
Composer, players, conductor, all of them so vastly talented.
Make way for the new, old people out there.

Friko said...

PS: lovely to 'see' you, finally, Susan.

cybersr said...

I didn't expect your review of the concert to be posted so quickly but I'm glad I checked and found it already up! Excellent work, too.

Don't you wish you could get a video of the inside of Dylan's and David's heads to see the notes and sounds and ideas swirling around as they create their music? It's amazing to contemplate.

Your piece does justice to the performance as your excitement and enjoyment shines through in your words and always well chosen photos and clips. Bravo to you, too.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Susan .. it is just wonderful that this group of youngsters have found their passion and seem to be well on their way with their music .. I am like Towanda .. but we can learn and experience the value that others can appreciate more than I am able to.

Thanks for pointing us in their direction .. cheers Hilary

David said...

You know, I often feel portentous when I say the usual along the lines of 'you can tell so much from a new piece by the way it starts', but this proves the point. Nine out of ten premieres make the conventional gambit with the usual percussion suspects and twitter of strings/woodwind and you know what you're in for. What you've put up here has ideas, energy, grabs you by the throat and then doesn't let you down.

I'd have to hear it all to know whether young Mattingly has mentor Adams's incredible sense of moving through space, but I bet from this he does. So thanks for this!

George Wallace said...

We've endured 50+ years of singer/songwriter/trouveurs being declared "the new Dylan." Who'd have thought that the actual new Dylan would write for chamber orchestra? I hope there will be an opportunity to hear this piece entire someday soon, because the video excerpt holds out promise galore

Susan Scheid said...

To you all: Oh, I do love these comments! Thank you so much. So you know: contemporaneous is, as I write, working on their first recording, of Mattingly works. (I’m not sure when they have time to sleep or eat!) When it’s available, I’ll definitely announce it here.

Jane & Lance: I hope one day you’ll write about one of those concerts. I’m curious, too, whether the students choose their own music for diploma concerts and whether the concerts ever include the music of living composers (including students).

Tawanda: Just so you know, until about two years ago, I’d not listened to a scrap of contemporary classical music, either. I see that Smith has Kisiabaton posted on her site, so, if you haven’t already found it, you can click here. It was amazing to hear/see this piece performed live. Beforehand, Smith recited the Snyder poem, which was a lovely touch.

Mark: It would have been fun to have you there—I’ve no doubt your take on it would have been fascinating.

Maggi: You made me laugh out loud. First off, if you are ancient, then I am prehistoric. I have heard of Garage Band, but that’s about it. Composing software called Sibelius seems to be the one classical folks use, but, when I last looked, music was written with notes that were penciled in on staff-lined paper. (As I said, prehistoric . . .)

David: I’ve heard a lot of current music that I’m very taken with, but nothing that knocked me flat like Atlas—definitely, for me, in the visionary line. I have more to say to you, as you’ll see below.

Friko: Ah, indeed, we must make way for the new! (Though, of course, we will still need to keep room for the lovely The Sixteen, yes?) And thanks for noting the new pic: yes, it’s true, I am not actually a bird—it’s just, at some point, I realized someone else needed to take a picture of me if I ever was going to put one up . . . )

cybersr: It would be fun, wouldn’t it, to be able to watch as the notes and sounds and ideas formed up into a final composition? Dylan described a little of David’s process as conductor, and that was fascinating, too.

Hilary: I’m curiouser and curiouser to know if there is any piece of music of any type that you’ve listened to and enjoyed. One day, perhaps, you’ll reveal such a thing!

David: First, I’m going to come right out and admit that I was thrilled to pieces that you thought well of Atlas. (I hope you will one day have the time and chance to hear the complete piece. I can tell you for sure—as you just may be able to get a glimmer of from what I write—that it grabbed me by the throat from the first note to the last.) Now, beyond simply being thrilled, your comment is packed with interesting musical information. Not only did you say that the Atlas excerpt stood out for you, but you told us, with your usual wit and eloquence, just exactly why. I love, too, your description about Adams’ music, his “incredible sense of moving through space.” A beautiful way to put it, and something I will be listening for from now on.

George: Ah, indeed, who’d have thunk it (and don’t we love that it’s the case)? As I wrote up top, I will post an alert when the recording comes out (though, actually, for those of us in tweetland, we’ll get the word from contemporaneous on the spot). It’ll be fun to compare notes, as always.

klahanie said...

Hi Susan,
My apologies for arriving rather late in the proceedings.
So, just a brief note to follow after all those other fine commentors. The more I check out Dylan Mattingly, the more impressed I am. The video of such talent is enticement, indeed.
Hope you are having a peaceful weekend.

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