Tag: Austin

CLOTS at the Museum of Human Achievement in Austin

Though clouded in some locational mystery, I finally found myself in the Museum of Human Achievement (mentioned previously here) thanks to composer and percussionist Nick Hennies’s latest project CLOTS. The museum keeps a bit of a low profile, but I can tell you that it’s in a warehouse on the east side of Austin. Finding your way there is apparently enough of a check of your bona fides that, once you arrive for a show, you are given the option of becoming a museum member. If you choose to join, you can select from a few dozen handmade membership cards which are then further customized with your name, the day’s date, and your member number. Given that areas like the once fun, funky, and occasionally unpredictable south Lamar are now populated by row upon row of condos, it’s really nice to find a place that is the antithesis of the “Times Square Disneyfication” that is creeping through town.

Nick Hennies performs CLOTS

Nick Hennies performs in CLOTS

CLOTS, created over a four-year period in collaboration with electro-acoustic musician/visual artist Sean O’Neill and designer/UT lecturer Clay Odom, was conceived as a “large scale interdisciplinary work that parasitically engages and encompasses the entire space of the venue.” The work was presented at the MHA as part of a week-long series of shows curated by Hennies and bookended by the CLOTS performances. Hennies et al. hoped to create a museum-like environment in which the audience members could move through the space and spend whatever amount of time they liked experiencing the art.

I attended the final performance of the week and, arriving a bit early, had a few minutes to survey the venue. Situated throughout the space were colonies of overhead projectors, some with their lamps pointed up to shine through thick translucent plastic sheeting, others projecting images onto the plastic. The sheeting was attached by guy-lines to the ceiling on the left side of the room, then fell across the floor of the stage, and rose again at a forty-five-degree angle on the right side of the stage, climbing over the entrance and terminating at the ceiling. Underneath and to the right of the rising plastic near the entrance was the first projector colony and to the left was an area featuring a lone kick drum tented by another hanging sheet. There was room for the audience to maneuver fully around all the created spaces.
CLOTS preshow
The Projector Colonies
The audio didn’t start with a downbeat as much as it sort of rumbled awake. A drone peppered with metallic filigree whirled around via several speakers situated throughout the space, and after a few minutes Hennies made his way to a vibraphone located in the middle of the stage. A small projector next to the vibes was rigged with a camera pointed into its light source. This image was then projected onto another sheet behind Hennies as he performed. Hanging from a frame above the vibes were several “chimes” built by Travis Weller. Looking every bit like giant metal clothespins, each chime roughly corresponded to a bar on the vibes and had a contact microphone attached to it. Hennies began to play a short, syncopated, repeating figure which only lasted about five seconds, and as the mallets moved from the equally tempered vibes to the differently tempered chimes, wonderfully rich combination tones resulted. I say “differently tempered” as I don’t know what system Weller used, but those guys were separated by just enough cents to make things nice and wobbly. As this figure was performed, people circulated through the space while others set up camp on the chairs and benches. For twenty minutes at a time (the amount of time one is instructed to perform transcendental meditation) Hennies would play the figure. When this time elapsed, he would move to the bass drum, take two beaters, and perform a long quiet roll while sitting cross-legged behind the drum, his head inclined and nearly touching the drum head. This sound was felt more than heard, and after several minutes Hennies would return to the vibes to begin the cycle again, all the while accompanied by the visual and aural electronics surrounding him.

While the various curtains of plastic, lights, and projectors served to frame the space and direct attention, the seating arrangement also played a significant role. Putting a few benches in front of the performer might have been intended as a waypoint for weary travelers, but in the context of a performance they were a magnet (maybe this is where they “clot”?) and focal point, or at least a place to view the focal point. The point is that people who might have had a more circulatory experience ended up planting themselves for large chunks of time and watching Hennies. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but in speaking with patrons who had been to the opening CLOTS performance, a few commented that some modest changes in the show (including chair placement) had a significant impact on their experience. No one said it was better or worse, but it was interesting to hear that something as simple as seating design could have such an effect.

Despite the invitation provided by the benches, the most compelling element of the show was the degree to which the audience could choose their own experience. While there is a difference between sitting in the tenth row at an orchestra concert and hanging out with the grad students in the third balcony, the performance is still essentially the same. However, a trip to a museum can be different things to different people. You might walk through the whole place or spend an hour fixated on a single work, and these two possibilities played out among the audience members throughout the CLOTS show. And whether they sat, stood, or strolled, all participants experienced a show that, like its venue, was an example of what makes Austin a great place to see new art.

CLOTS was come one, come all

CLOTS was come one, come all

Austin: New Concert Reboot

Big changes often come from the smallest sources. A cough, a rustling of the cough drop wrapper, the realization that the interminable amount of time and noise required by that guy to “quietly” open his cough drop is going to ruin the show for you. The further realization that, while you’d rather not have someone making any noise during the slow movement of whatever is on tap that night, the real issue is as much the forum as it is the noise. Sure, the venue might demand silence with a capital “S” but does the presentation? I’ve taken every creaky door late entrance and unmuted cell phone ring as a challenge to redouble my focus as a listener, though this sometimes makes me feel as though I must look like someone trying to bend spoons with their mind or to communicate telepathically. Then it occurs to me that if I was in a less formal setting, I would naturally take these things in stride and enjoy the show. Jacqueline Perrin has been employing this idea for the last few years with her Classical Reinvention project by presenting interdisciplinary shows in a variety of settings around Austin.

Move On by Shirley Luong set to music by Michael Mikulka

Move On by Shirley Luong set to music by Michael Mikulka

Her first effort took the form of a salon concert. Perrin performed a variety of works at the piano and spoke about the music between pieces. After that initial experience of connecting with the audience through the music, as well as through discussion of the works, she decided to develop a series of shows that have steadily gained in popularity. Her follow up, Music in Real Time, presented five works with visuals addressing the structural aspects of each work as the pieces were performed, including works by Cage and Radiohead. Interviews were conducted between pieces in an effort to bridge the gap between audience and performer. Music Under the Stars was originally scheduled to be performed on the roof of the University of Texas Astronomy building, complete with giant telescope for viewing, but was moved inside to a makeshift blackbox theater as stormy weather rolled in. Audience members created their own art in response to the performances and participated in discussions of the both their own creations and the music that was performed.

In its first move off campus, Disco Classical involved contemporary classical pieces alongside works by Astor Piazzolla accompanied by salsa dancing. Said Perrin, “The show went great, but there were a few patrons who enjoyed the bar access more than we anticipated.” Paint, Play, Plié was a multi-disciplinary endeavor featuring dancers in the FAB Gallery under UT’s Fine Arts Library. Musicians were set up in opposing corners of the room allowing for virtually uninterrupted music as dancers improvised. Artists painted on large glass panels in the center of the room, interpreting works by Paul Lansky, Schubert, Haydn, the Bad Plus, and UT student composer Zack Wilson in real time. I attended their most recent effort, Synthesis, a collaboration between Classical Reinvention and their partner group Dance Action under the auspices of the Cohen New Works Festival.
I know I’ve gone on and on about it in previous posts, but Austin in March is a magical place. Dressed in L.A. weather with blue skies as far as the eyes can see, it is prime real estate for outdoor activities of all kinds and concerts are no exception. Synthesis was conceived as a guided performance originating outside the Harry Ransom Center on the University of Texas campus.

Starting with a French horn choir and around a half dozen dancers, the first work, Whispers of a Wall, had the dancers moving on and around the small walls surrounding the pavilion. Though the arrangements (Debussy in this case) were lovely and well rendered, we came upon one of the reasons that performance outside is tricky. The sounds that we are used to having directed into our ears via well-constructed acoustical spaces (or headphones) are disseminated into the air, robbing them of much of their power. Fortunately, though there was a standing-room-only crowd for the show, everything could be heard and arguably the character of the Debussy matched the more modest dynamic. The audience looked up and through the windows to see the dancers on the second floor landing of the interior for the second work Frames, which featured the choreography of Courtney Mazeika and Victoria Mora. It was visually stunning and was beautifully matched by the voices of the UT Collegium Musicum. However, in a “cough drop wrapper writ large” moment, a rock band on the other side of campus had apparently scheduled their “Bud Light Rock Fest Concert” at virtually the same moment. Of course, the singers never missed a beat, and it’s my firm belief that the audience bent every spoon in a ten-mile radius while focusing laser-like on the proceedings.

Inside the Prothro Theater at the Harry Ransom Center

Inside the Prothro Theater at the Harry Ransom Center

Thankfully, the show next made its way into the Harry Ransom Center. Guided by the dancers, the audience walked through a phalanx of singers on its way inside and passed cellist Samuel Johnson as he and two dancers performed Tawny Garcia’s Tether, which while certainly substantial in its own right, served—as the title might suggest—as a connective element between the inner and outer performances. Once settled into the space inside, Ethan Greene’s Inventions and Interludes in Iron began to emanate from the speakers. Broken into several short, distinctive sections, the work featured dance that mirrored the fractured quality of the electronics. Jagged jaw-harps glissed high and low as SOS chirps hopped around a metallic scratching counterpoint. Another section saw regular rhythms surrounded by what sounded like re-imagined car horns, detuned and chromatic. The first movement of Michael Mikulka’s To Summon Rain, Wind, Snow, and Thunder for timpani had a quasi-military quality which matched the choreography as well as the imagery of nuclear destruction projected behind the dancers. The second movement featured glissando gestures mirrored by a solo dancer and was a respite from the initial strength of the first movement. The final movements saw a return to the military character of the first, with matching repetitive, angular moves by the dancers. It was a great closer, and frankly there are few more definitive ways of ending a show than with a guy wailing away on timpani.

Classical Reinvention is doing it right. By acting as a clearing house for collaborative work and by moving concert music to different venues, Perrin is bringing music to a new audience. She’s also not afraid to try something new in every presentation instead of simply offering a recurring concert series. In each of these shows, musicians, artists, dancers, and audiences create shared experiences that serve to broaden the perspective of all participants. And even when the Gods of Rock make their presence known, the audience is prepped to focus, listen, and bend their own spoons.

No Idea Festival 2013: Improv Anywhere

Chris Cogburn
Chris Cogburn recently curated the 10th annual No Idea Festival with six concerts in Austin and San Antonio. Hailed by the Paris Transatlantic as “one of the finest improvised festivals in the world,” this year’s gathering featured performances by nineteen musicians who made domestic treks from Austin, Houston, Jackson, and New York, as well as those who braved customs with loads of arcane gear from New Zealand, Germany, France, and Mexico. Grizzled veterans were joined by new players in a variety of collaborative efforts over the six-day event, one in which new relationships were formed and existing relationships were strengthened through brief but intense rehearsals to facilitate “free improvisations, composition, noise, and sonic interventions.”
A free show on the Pfluger pedestrian bridge served as a somewhat casual pre-festival opener. Hailing from the streets of Mexico City by way of New Zealand and Spain, Misha Marks was joined by Austinite Ralph White for a bit of off-the-cuff busking on a spectacular Saturday afternoon. The Pfluger pedestrian bridge is quite well traveled on any given day and even more so on the weekend, so there was no shortage of people passing and pausing to hear Marks, and White trade fours. The second set featured Cogburn and Dafne Vincente-Sandoval in musical conversation. Their interaction was somewhat more sparse and introverted, but still quite communicative and expressive. Perhaps the most compelling thing about these sets was the fact that the audience had no frame of reference. Some walked by without so much as a turn of the head while others stopped and soaked in every nuance, not necessarily realizing that this was a planned show and not another Austin oddity. Children had some of the most interesting reactions, eyes big with wonder when the sounds would come together in a recognizable form, invisible worlds forming in those little craniums.

Dafne Vicente-Sandoval and Chris Cogburn

Dafne Vicente-Sandoval and Chris Cogburn

I headed to the Salvage Vanguard Theater for the opening event where Cogburn, Vincente-Sandoval, and her fellow Parisian laptop artist Xavier Lopez performed a set of live improvisation. Among the goals of the festival is to bring artists together not only for one-off shows but also to build multi-year relationships; relationships that serve to more fully develop the depth of communication in each improvisation. Immediately following a brief introduction by Cogburn, a siren dopplered its way down the street outside as if to signal entry into a world in which every sound is musically fair game. Vincente-Sandoval began with chirps and clicks on her bassoon reed as Lopez invoked punches of static from the laptop. Cogburn placed a cymbal on the snare, creating resonance with friction from a dowel placed in its center, which combined cleanly with a rising (and piercing) set of frequencies from Lopez’s laptop. Something about the level of volume and the particular frequencies, all quite high in pitch, filled the room and got into my head, which while not painful was a bit scary. I kept thinking, “One false move with that dial and we’re all toast.” As the work progressed, Vincente-Sandoval gradually assembled her bassoon, continuing to coax sounds that had more body and resonance while retaining the short, sharp character of the opening. The players clearly had respect for each other’s space which resulted in clear background and foreground during the performance with very little stepping on one another’s toes. This was made all the more clear by the very different palettes utilized by each player. Lopez’s static and wholly electronic world played out in stark contrast to the others. Cogburn was able to create long tones which had characteristics in common with elements of Lopez’s world, though they were timbrally distinctive. Vincente-Sandoval’s staccato arsenal could at times echo the static of Lopez but also had an organic quality that served to contrast with those electronics and while blending well with Cogburn’s offerings. Very cool.

The No Idea performance I attended last year was at The Broken Neck, a large warehouse on the east side. In a marked contrast to that visceral space, I found myself at The Performance Loft, an uber-swanky venue in the heart of downtown Austin. I was initially unsure about whether to even go in, thinking I must be in the wrong place, but when I saw Bonnie I knew all was well. I arrived several minutes before Bob Hoffnar (on pedal steel) and Aaron Allen (on upright bass) began their set. Hoffnar and Allen performed a commission by Catherine Lamb, one that involved an unorthodox tuning designed to correspond with the 60 cycle hum generated by standard US voltage as well as the 50 cycle European standard. Bowed harmonics on the bass shared space with low pedal swells, the two combining to form resultant tones that echoed bells with no attack. As Hoffnar swelled up and down in volume, the hum from the pickups lent a body to the sound not unlike what you might hear when walking under a lamppost. It struck me that it didn’t seem incongruous to the work, and Hoffnar mentioned afterward that because the piece was based on voltage cycles, the pickup hum actually fit right in.

Chris Cogburn played a piece written by Bryan Eubanks which was not only the brightest spot among many that evening, but one of the simplest and most compelling pieces I’ve heard in a long time. It’s so simple that I’m not sure how to convey the impact to you, but here it goes. Cogburn began with a roll on the snare, near the rim. Over the course of five or six minutes he gradually increased in volume, though his overall dynamic journey was essentially from mf to f. I suppose that Eubanks borrowed a bit from a magician’s sleight of hand-book, because as I was intently listening to what essentially appeared to be a drum roll I began to hear something else. Or did I? I thought I was hearing some kind of very quiet hiss or static and figured it must be my brain reacting to the prolonged roll. I began to turn my head a bit to “feel” the sound and realized that many people were doing the same thing; looking around the room trying to figure out if that “other” sound was a real thing or some crazy artifact of the roll. I should at this point tell you that the Performance Loft has a very involved surround sound speaker system (360+ speakers!) that is carefully integrated into the walls such that you hardly notice it, and it was from these speakers that a gradually increasing white noise signal was emanating. Maybe it was the shared “A-ha!” moment with other audience members, or the simplicity of the sort of 21st-century Bolero vibe that the piece had, but when the Cogburn and the static reached critical mass, held it, and cut off abruptly to end the work, the place went nuts. It was simply awesome and everyone was excitedly talking about it. I’m not sure if it would have the same impact the second time around or if it would suffer as the movie “Sixth Sense” can on a second viewing because you know what’s coming, but that first time…whoa.

Remi Álvarez, Damon Smith, and Alvin Fielder

Remi Álvarez, Damon Smith, and Alvin Fielder

The last set of the evening featured Alvin Fielder on drums and percussion, Damon Smith on upright bass, and Remi Álvarez on saxophone. On a night with static lurking in the darkness and pedal steel guitars tuned to electric sockets, this final set was arguably the most conventional, though I don’t use that term pejoratively. Fielder set up delicate textures with bells, shakers, and other hand percussion while Álvarez comped harmonics. Damon Smith pulled out all the stops, coaxing a wide variety of sounds and attacks from the bass. Clearly part of the conventionality was that the drums/bass/sax setup has a long and storied history which informs any performance, even if that performance strives to be something completely different. However, these players were clearly above all that and spent their set as the other improvisers had at the festival; focusing on each moment and event as they assembled them into a new work of art.

I was struck by this year’s festival—not only by the music, but also by the diversity of audience and venue. Presenting this music in typical concert halls will only go so far and connect with so many. Outdoor afternoon bridge concerts with kids and dogs in attendance, an evening show in otherwise private performance space populated by the usual suspects, and shows in hidden museums all speak to the need to put this music in as many different places as possible so the largest number of people can find it. Cogburn is ten years into this journey, and in that time he has done a great deal to bring the diverse world of improv to the experienced as well as uninitiated in central Texas.

New Music in New Places: After Hours Concerts in Austin

Michael Hertel, Sunil Gadgil, and lots of cans.

Michael Hertel, Sunil Gadgil, and lots of cans.

There are pros and cons to consider when messing around with contemporary concert presentation. Change it too little and you may not attract the newer (read: younger) audiences that can sustain your project. Change it too much and you run the risk of alienating your base. The attractive features of your new venue may clash with the needs of the music. I’ve been to more than a few shows where the magical moments were ruined by the ring of a cash register or the frothing of milk. Cell phone etiquette? Good luck. As much as we rail against these protocols, they do serve a purpose. But if you find the right curator, a balance can be struck between cool venue and great music.

After Hours Concerts run by saxophonist Spencer Nielsen held its inaugural concert at Austin Beerworks. Doubling down on the “Why don’t we have a concert at the coffeehouse/bar?” concept, Nielsen and (most of) his Bel Cuore cohorts held court at the brewery itself. Located in a warehouse in North Austin, Austin Beerworks is one of a number of microbreweries that have recently sprung up after so many went south following the bursting of the late ’90s tech bubble. The ticket price for the show covered admittance to the concert, a few beers [1], and an ABW pint glass. Not a bad deal.

Cool new music locations are sometimes hard to find, especially when they are located among row upon row of nondescript warehouses. I get lost in my own home, so I walked in a bit late as the first piece, Rob Smith’s Morse Code Pop, was being performed by Nielsen and Michael Hertel. Written for alto and baritone saxophone, the punchy syncopated rhythms hopped and skipped around a pulse that was occasionally outlined by key clicks and foot stomps mimicking hi-hats. Nielsen followed the up-tempo Smith piece with Joan Tower’s Wings. Mostly lyrical lines were accented with grace notes leading to pedal point trills, all impressively negotiated by Nielsen with a clear, round tone. Sunil Gadgil joined Hertel and Nielsen for William Albright’s Doo Dah. A somber work overall, the three saxes traded and shared long lines that, as they came together, created beating combination tones before resolving. Short fast lines lead to something of a Scelsian moment, a single tone played among the three which seemed to expand and contract before wheeling out of control into a wild polyphony, the lines moving every which way. Side trips into fugue, blues, and jazz found common ground in timbral exploration. Albright’s goal was to make the three instruments into one, and it was particularly impressive to hear the trio simply fill the large room with sound.

line upon line and the vat cathedral

line upon line and the vat cathedral

As Bel Cuore headed for the bar [2], line upon line percussion took the stage. Their set opened with Ian Dicke’s commentary on consumerism, Missa Materialis. In five movements, the piece was not only aurally compelling but also visually stimulating. The first movement evoked tribal rhythms performed on a trash can with broken sixteenth note figures played on anvil. The motoric qualities of this movement gave way to a call and response on ratchets which started with the players “discovering” the sounds the instruments made; a discovery made particularly enjoyable by their theatrical delivery which helped tell the story without descending into campy silliness. A more melancholy section followed, one populated by whistling, musical saw, and vibes, recalling the character of an old radio show. The piece ends with a movement featuring plastic grocery bags, wine glasses, and a brave rendition of Agnus Dei with a bit of vibes thrown in for good measure. Steven Snowden’s A Man With a Gun Lives Here for bass drum (primarily) and three players is in three movements and gets its name from the so-called “hobo code” which consisted of symbols used in the early 20th century to indicate a place to get a meal, potential danger, and other characteristics of a given location. In the first movement, “Be prepared to defend yourself,” syncopated rhythmic patterns that form and disintegrate are interrupted by low rumbles created by a rubber mallet slowly drawn across the head of the drum. “There Are Thieves About” featured grooves played on the rim and various metals, with Cullen Faulk diving in to give “zrbtts” [3] to the drumhead. The final movement shares its name with the piece and featured brushes used on and around the drum. As the brushes swished and banged, a paper bag materialized and was integrated into the rhythmic texture. It was picked up, passed around, and slid across the drum as a crescendo slowly built. At the climax, Faulk (who was positioned in the center) raised the bag in the air where it was stabbed on either side by Matthew Teodori and Adam Bedell. The buckshot within spilled onto the drum, and as it rolled around it looked like flocking birds and sounded a bit like the wind.

Backstage at the merch counter.

Backstage at the merch counter.

Let’s just say that having a concert in a brewery is likely going to draw a crowd. While it wasn’t church-quiet in there, the ambient noise of the room was certainly within listenable parameters and at times added to the impact of the music. The visual aspect was sort of cathedral-like, with the vats positioned like some huge shell behind the performers, but it looked pretty cool and it gave some acoustic character to the warehouse. After Hours Concerts has shows scheduled at Texas Coffee Traders and Springdale Farms this spring, and I’ll be sure to check them out. Espressos and wheat grass shots, here I come!


1. May I recommend the “Mister Falcon?” It was a mix of two of their beers, and if it wasn’t so delicious I would have had the presence of mind to write them down. Also worth noting is that Mister Falcon and Mother Falcon are both used extensively in broadcast versions of movies featuring Samuel Jackson.

2. I don’t really know if they went to the bar. It’s very possible they headed offstage for bottled water, juice, or a quick run around the building.

3. Ah, the ’80s.

John Luther Adams and Glenn Kotche go on Spirit Journeys with Ilimaq

Glenn Kotche and John Luther Adams’s collaborative relationship took root several years ago in Alaska. While on tour with the rock band Wilco,[1] Kotche rang up Adams and suggested dinner, and this initial meeting lead to a friendship as well as a collaboration on Adams’s newest work, Ilimaq. Though Kotche is best known for the Wilco gig, he is no stranger to the world of new music. He has collaborated with eighth blackbird and has been commissioned by the Kronos Quartet, the Bang on a Can All-Stars, and So Percussion among others. On the other side, Adams has a rock band background as well, so the two already had a great deal in common before that first dinner.

John Luther Adams (left) and Glenn Kotche

John Luther Adams (left) and Glenn Kotche

In true rock and roll fashion, the headliner [2] required an opening act, and On Fillmore, featuring Kotche on percussion and Darin Gray on bass, played just that role. Dovetailing with the pre-concert audience patter, bells began to peal at irregular intervals through antiphonally positioned speakers in the McCullough Theater on the campus of UT Austin. Also in keeping with rock and roll tradition, it was really loud and served eventually to transition most of the crowd from their how-do-you-do’s into full concert mode. Any stragglers were wrangled into place by bassist Darin Gray’s entrance. Looking a bit like a cross between a Stop Making Sense-era David Byrne and Tom Waits at his most junk-kit gravelly, Gray walked from the side of the room across (and above) the audience’s chairs armed with a variety of noise makers. Gray’s duck calls, whistles, clappers, and static generators (the last of these likely one of the wind gadgets overblown like crazy, making me occasionally yearn for the quiet peace of the antiphonal bells which were actually drowned out once or twice…) had an organic, natural quality and acted as an appropriate precedent to the Adams. Gray eventually made his way to the stage to join Kotche in a series of tunes peppered with reverb and other effects. Listening to two seasoned veterans lock together is always a thing of beauty, and Gray and Kotche delivered the goods; largely simple grooves and bass lines that took the listener from rock show to slightly surreal art presentation and back again. The latter description was delivered via the occasional noisemaker and the use of orchestral percussion (glockenspiel and crotales in particular) which, when used along with the insistent bass lines, obligated me to make the note, “Tom Waits Christmas” with a big smile next to it. It was fun, well played, and a great warm up for the Adams.

The second half of the concert was dedicated to the 45-minute Texas Performing Arts commission Ilimaq. The three-movement work was divided into three instrumental groupings on the stage: bass drum, cymbals/gongs, and drum kit. The first movement was in essence an extended bass drum roll, but eventually moved listeners away from the individual sound events and immersed them in a larger texture removed from time. Starting at a modest volume, the roll began to echo through the speakers placed around the hall. Kotche accelerated, decelerated, crescendoed, and decrescendoed throughout, but these small-scale changes were less important than the overall effect, which was that of a hypnotic thrumming. Despite the fact that I was listening to someone beat the hell out of a bass drum, I honestly felt like I could fall asleep in the middle of the whole thing. This was not out of boredom, however; I think that Adams was actually able to tap into the whole shaman/hypnotic thing and it was really quite effective. Adams creates the sense of “really big space” (and McCullough is not particularly expansive) in many of his works, and the opening movement of Ilimaq is no exception.

In the second movement, Kotche moved to a set of cymbals and gongs. Slow rolls played on crash cymbals were barely perceptible and came across like small waves crashing. The use of soft mallets made for little or no attack, and presented a great contrast to the visceral and constant attacks of the roll(s) in the first movement. Adams talks about creating an “aura” for the piece, an electronic background texture which reads/sounds like a bit like an ambient synth bed over which the percussion rides. This aura swirled around us through the speaker system, at times coming to the fore, but for the most part playing second fiddle to the percussion. This “all rounded with no edges/attacks” quality took a turn as the piece progressed, and more aggressive rolls resulted in the bite of the cymbal becoming all edge. This section was brief, however, and with a strike on the bell of the cymbal the movement ended.

The final movement saw Kotche move to a large drum kit positioned in the center of the stage. Armed with eight toms, eight cymbals, and two kick drums, Kotche seemed poised to play any number of epic rock drum solos, and Adams finale didn’t land far from that mark. Huge rolls, this time more akin to rock drum fills played across the kit, were punctuated with cymbal hits. Patterns of increasing and decreasing rhythmic values gave shape to the phrases, but any evaluation of the finer points and proportions is probably missing the point. This was about energy, movement, and frankly, sheer power, and Kotche gave it everything he had. I don’t think I heard a single individual who didn’t have something to say about the endurance required to play either of the outer movements, much less both of them. As the lightning and the thunder subsided, the bowing of a small gong signaled the end of the work.

Adams was in town for several days and spoke at two or three locations on campus about the work and the collaboration that took place. In one of these talks he spoke about writing music that embodies the out-of-doors as well as writing music that actually requires performance outside; music that should not be played indoors at all. Ilimaq could well be a harbinger of things to come, and not for the volume level alone. The hypnotic repetitiveness of the first movement, the introspective quality of the second, and the visceral, athletic elements of the third all begged to be let loose, to be performed and experienced in a venue as big as the music, and Adams’s great outdoors would be the perfect place for the next rendition of this work.

1. I know I’m getting old when instead of saying “Wilco” I say “The Rock Band Wilco”

2. Well, Kotche was the headliner but since this concert revolved around Ilimaq, I’m going with the piece as the headliner.

String Quartet Smackdown! In Austin

How many times during a heated debate about chamber music have you longed for a pair of boxing gloves or perhaps a cricket bat? In the topsy-turvy world of new music, sometimes having a solid piece of wood in your hand can be quite useful. Long gone are the thoughtful, dispassionate discussions of historical significance and the careful dissections of dogma peppered with compromise. These have been replaced by heated accusations, wild ad hominem arguments, and other madness which, if allowed to continue unchecked, will not end well. I say we let the music duke it out and let the audience decide. Via text message. The organizers of Golden Hornet Project’s “String Quartet Smackdown!” clearly agree that the present state of musical debate requires an overhaul. Staid competitions with pedigreed judges be damned! We’ve got smart phones, strong opinions, and a fully stocked bar. Let’s get cracking.

Golden Hornet Project’s “String Quartet Smackdown!”

Featuring sixteen quartet compositions chosen anonymously from among over 100 entries, the Smackdown! was held at Austin’s Scottish Rite Theater, home to regular avant jazz shows as well as secretive, Masonic meetings. Set up to run like the last few rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament, the Smackdown! started with a “Sweet Sixteen” round in which the first minute of each quartet was played. Full disclosure: I had a piece in this competition. Its involvement was…brief. This was followed by an “Elite Eight” round with two minutes per piece performed, a “Final Four” with three minutes each, and the Championship in which the last two pieces were played in their entirety. The Tosca String Quartet took on the sizeable task of learning all sixteen string quartets in a few weeks and having each one under their fingers in the event that it reached the final round. One of the entrance requirements was that each piece needed to be right around four minutes (lots of single movements out there), but that’s still over an hour of new music to learn in a relatively short time. Tosca did a fantastic job, not only performing flawlessly but also avoiding having even a single page out of order or any other similar issue which could have easily thrown a monkey wrench into a presentation in which timing and solid performances mean the difference between glory and an early trip to the bar. They also managed to keep straight faces when at the end of each work’s allotted one, two, or three minutes, the gong which signaled “time is up” broke into the flow of the piece, cutting it short as required by the rules. This was funny at first (there used to be this t.v. show…), but after the first few thwacks it started to wear out its welcome. Fortunately, the timers backed off on the hits as the show went on.

Some contests were close!...Some contests were not so close.

Some contests were close!…Some contests were not so close.

Once the gong was struck, the audience was given a few minutes to text their vote and the results came up on a large screen behind Tosca. Watching the real-time “Battle of the Bars” was half the fun, and the audience reactions to contests close and not-so-close were chock full of “oohs” and “aahs.” In the interest of anonymity the quartets were all assigned numbers, one through sixteen, so one would see SQ1 -vs- SQ16 and so on. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that most audience members would be able to “put names to faces” with a given piece, so to speak. For instance, my piece went out in spectacular fashion in the first round, but I suspect that a few of the people who voted for it might have wanted to know who wrote it, and even though the names and titles of each work were included in the program and shown on the screen at the end of the competition, there was no correlation with the numbering system. An industrious audience member (or one with a notebook, pen, email communication with the contest coordinators, and modest research abilities) could probably dig up the facts, but letting people know whose piece was being played at a given time probably wouldn’t have had a huge impact on the voting and would have given said audience member an idea of which composer to check out the next day.

Tosca String Quartet at the String Quartet Smackdown!

Hopefully the audience took those programs home and checked out all of the composers, because there were a number of wonderful pieces included in the show. The gentle introspection of Jonathan Russell’s …in the fir trees: fireflies, with its slow and quiet rising lines, offered a wonderful contrast to the rhythmic intensity and harmonic crunchiness of David Biedenbender’s Surface Tension. Despite its compelling use of pre-recorded materials slowly overtaken by the strings, Steven Snowden’s Appalachian Polaroids also went out in the first round, so I didn’t feel too bad about getting my card punched before intermission. Ruben Naeff’s Little JACKASS (originally JACKASS written for the JACK Quartet) was another strong work; odd time signatures gave shape to quiet high-register rhythmic figures which descended by and by and were joined by longer lines, still walking in lock-step with those asymmetrical rhythms. But in the end, there could be only one, and the catchy rhythms and strong melodies of Chris Black’s Fifteen Grand in a Paper Sack came out on top.

All in all the Smackdown! was a resounding success. It was well attended, and the diverse audience didn’t look to be new music regulars, which I contend is a good thing. As far as I could tell, no one left during intermission, which is a victory for any show. The fact that the audience played an active role in the proceedings coupled with relatively short pieces made for a presentation that was compelling and easily digestible. Given this, I wonder if at the next Smackdown! we could hear the pieces in their entirety from the get go? No one seemed anxious to leave, and while it would certainly add time to the event it would also let more slowly evolving pieces do their thing. (I’m not referring to my piece. It was pretty evolved by the time it got smacked by Sarah Norris’s Stalin Does The Robot).

I can see the Tosca’s reviewing their contract right now…

Blanton Soundspace: Space and Symmetry

Seventy-six Trombones, sir? Clearly you are not trying hard enough. Steve Parker’s recent Soundspace installment at the Blanton Museum searched for symmetry in a variety of ways, and nice round numbers like 80 seem to have fit the bill. The series stayed true to its name by encouraging the audience to circulate around the museum during the performances, as pieces overlapped in a variety of locales throughout the space. The symmetry was also manifest in the composition of the works and the organization of the performances. Each piece was performed twice in a large-scale presentational arch form, with the pivot point occurring at 3:00 p.m.

Henry Brant's Orbits from the first floor Photo by John Clark

Henry Brant’s Orbits from the first floor
Photo by John Clark

To describe the performance of Henry Brant’s Orbits for 80 trombones, organ, and soprano as antiphonal doesn’t do it justice. Multiphonal? Omniphonal? Surround Sound 80.1? Words can’t fully express the experience of being in the belly of the beast during this performance, one in which the occasional interjection of the organ is the respite. Starting on the first floor and winding up the stairs and around the second-floor landing in the two-story open space near the entrance of the Blanton, the 80 trombonists worked their way through devastating sound masses, angular, stabbing gestures, and occasional glimpses of conventional choir moments. Organist Charlie Magnone played amplified keyboard on the first floor while mezzo-soprano Laura Mercado-Wright held court on the second floor. They shared the spotlight in delicate counterpoint–light, thin pops of sound echoing about before being subsumed by the trombone onslaught. The atrium of the Blanton is covered in a variety of blue tiles, giving a visual sense of the ocean, and here the trombones came again and again in wave after wave.

Orbits from the second floor landing in the Blanton Museum Photo by John Clark

Orbits from the second-floor landing in the Blanton Museum
Photo by John Clark

Inspired by the work of Dmitri Tymoczko, jazz theorist Barry Harris, and Toru Takemitsu, guitarist Thomas Echols performed a solo set which mirrored the arch form of the entire event. He started with an electric/acoustic improvisation entitled Mutatis Mutandis complete with a theremin which was manipulated by the audience, allowing for participation in the show. The improvisation was followed by Takemitsu’s transparent In Twilight, which was followed in turn by another improvisatory set. Adam Bedell performed Stockhausen’s Zyklus, a circular exploration of keyboards, bells, drums, and triangles, among other instruments. The performer is called upon to start anywhere in the score and play until that initial moment is reached, so it’s unlikely that any two performances will be the same. Bassists P.K. Waddle, Jessica Valls, Christopher Flores, and Pat Harris gave a truly sublime performance of Reflections on Whittier and Ives for bass quartet by Bertram Turetzky. Largely chordal, pulsing with lazy melodies that rose to the surface only to slowly sink again, Reflections was the most meditative of the offerings.

Laura Mercado-Wright performed a number of works, including two premiers by Shawn Allison. She was joined by baritone Thann Scoggin for Three New Lullabies. Conceived as a modern “parental duet” of sorts, the piece reflected the challenges of creative parents trying to balance work and home life. Scoggin and Mercado-Wright sang from opposite sides of the dimly lit room, trading slow, winding lines back and forth. Also presented was [höre] with percussionist Cullen Faulk. If you picture the room as a clock face, Faulk was positioned at noon, with Mercado-Wright at 9 o’clock. Atmospheric at its core, [höre] initially sounded like traded breathing, with Mercado-Wright’s sighs dovetailing with the gentle lines and bowing in the vibes. This progressed to a more visceral coming together just past the halfway mark as she moved counterclockwise around the room, the climax of the work occurring as she neared the percussionist. She then returned to her initial spot, this final move paired with a return to the hushed whispering texture of the opening.

I Will Wait by Keith Manlove continued the theme of space utilization by having Mercado-Wright move in, out, and around the room while performing. Said Manlove of the work, “I give the performer multiple streams of information (more than they can physically perform) as a …way for them to improvise and extend the instrument. I’ve given all the information of the piece in two measures that the performer repeats over and over, (and) they’re allowed to choose as little or as much information as they like. The idea is that no matter how much the performer struggles or tries, how well they perform, how much or little information they use, they’re stuck in this loop. They’re waiting for someone.”

I Will Wait

From the score for Keith Manlove’s I Will Wait. Copyright 2012 Keith Manlove. (Click here for a larger and more complete version of the score.)

Cathy Berberian’s Stripsody lent a mid-century lightness (the only time that ever happens) to the proceedings. The score for Stripsody is essentially a series of comic strip tropes (represented on Berberian’s score with illustrations by Roberto Zamarin) and its performance was greeted with smiles and wonder by all.

Clarinetist Nathan Williams’s animated performance of Stockhausen’s In Freundschaft was a feast for the eyes as well as the ears. It wouldn’t be Stockhausen if the work wasn’t mathematically rigorous and methodically planned (pitch and rhythm are mapped onto an X-Y axis, and the work is conceived in three voices), but the impact was anything but dry and mechanical. The performer is directed to face forward, stage left, or stage right for various phrases, and the different voices are “aimed” up, down, and center, relative to their range. For example, Williams would play a high floating line while facing left, then rapidly face forward to deliver a honk or multiphonic in the midrange, then just as quickly face right to explore the chalumeau range. These rapid changes resulted in a performance that had the impact of watching a solo actor performing multiple roles, right down to the changing of perspective between characters.

Bassists Christopher Flores, P.K. Waddle, Pat Harris, and Jessica Valls

Bassists Christopher Flores, P.K. Waddle, Pat Harris, and Jessica Valls performing Reflections on Whittier and Ives for bass quartet by Bertram Turetzky.

This installment of the Soundspace series was arguably the most ambitious to date. Organizing 80 players of any given instrument is a challenge in and of itself, but to do it twice in one day is a tall order in any market. Add to that a number of premiers, a huge performance space(s), invaluable art, and a roaming audience, and you’ve got more than a concert, you’ve got mini-festival. The red thread of symmetry that ran through the show gave a sense of continuity while allowing for a wide variety of performances and experiences. This was the largest turn out yet for a performance at the Blanton, and the fact that it was on a Sunday afternoon in Austin in early fall (a time when all things outdoor are picture perfect) is a testament to the quality of the music and the hunger Austin audiences have for new and interesting music.

Texas Performing Arts and Conspirare: New Season, New Commissions

The commissioning of new works is the life blood of contemporary music. Whether large or small, from consortiums, ensembles, foundations, or individuals, these nods to compositional creativity provide practical support for composers as well as career-boosting validation. Texas Performing Arts and Conspirare are two of the strongest players in the music scene in Austin, and their commitment to the commissioning and performing of new works is significant. Recently, both groups commissioned and premiered major new works within only a few days of one another. Fall is always overflowing with great sounds, and this embarrassment of new music riches, coupled with a bit of mercifully cool weather, made for an exciting start to the season.

Dan Welcher

Dan Welcher

The double string quartet is a bit of a rare avis. If you happen to attend a concert with a new one programmed, you’re also going to hear either the Shostakovich or the Mendelssohn. It’s going to happen. Or you may hear both as bookends to the new work, which is what the audience experienced when the Miró and Shanghai quartets came together to premier Dan Welcher’s new work Museon Polemos. ** The Shostakovich Two Pieces for String Octet, which preceded the Welcher, featured a common setup for the performers which (from stage right) is the standard quartet configuration (vn, vn, vc, va) but doubled. A little weird, like driving an unfamiliar stick shift, but still quite workable. However, Museon Polemos’ antiphonal requirements not only had the quartets set up opposite one another but also had the viola and cello switch their conventional position such that both groups (when viewed from the audience) were mirror images of violin I, violin II, viola, and cello from the front to the back of the stage on a bit of an angle. I imagine that after a few decades you get pretty used to having the viola right there, so doing a shell game shuffle with the seating positions could be, you know, problematic; something like driving in England with the stick in your left hand, the clutch under your right foot, in the rain, caught in one of those endless roundabouts. Yet during this performance, you’d never know anything was unusual, either from what you could see or hear, all of which was dynamic, compelling, and flawlessly performed. Labeled as a “25 minute ballet without dancers,” Museon Polemos pits the two string quartets against one another in an Apollonian/Dionysian contrast of music and mood with the Shanghai quartet as the thoughtful, cool former and the Miró quartet as the visceral, earthy latter. While the forthcoming Rite of Spring centennial is in the near future, Welcher took inspiration primarily from Stravinsky’s later ballets of the ’30s and ’40s when composing his work.

The Shanghai (top) and Miró (bottom, photo by Nathan Russell) Quartets

The Shanghai (top) and Miró (bottom, photo by Nathan Russell) Quartets

The work opened with a short, sharp tutti chord which contained the harmonic profile of both groups, combined in one thorny punch. This led to an introduction to the character of each quartet, starting with the Shanghai’s bright, clean lines in the violins bolstered by pizzicato in the viola. The Miró responded with sneering, blocky double-stops, violin I rising against accents in violin II. The sabre rattling took the shape of solos with both groups firing shots over the other’s bow until the movement ended, the matter unresolved, illustrated by another statement of the opening chord. The second movement began with Miró weaving a unison line contrasted by chords performed by Shanghai. A solo broke from the unison line, dramatically contrasting and ultimately dominating the chords in the Shanghai. However, before a death blow could be dealt, a slow, melancholy, barcarolle-like motion emerged from the remains of the chords Shanghai had all but abandoned. Miró joined the procession, the music building inevitably to a climax before both groups returned to their introductory material; a quiet ending which left the conflict of the work still unresolved. For the third movement, Welcher pulled out all the stops including rhythmic elements from “Dance of the Adolescents” from part I of The Rite of Spring, his one nod to the centennial. Following the initial onslaught, a calm section provided a break; a gathering of forces for the final push. A Gregorian chant of sorts developed in the violins, pushing forward and mimicking the inevitability of the barcarolle from the second movement. This gave way to big pizzicato lines traded among the players as trills erupted, both providing tension and effectively freezing the forward motion of the work. A high note traded between both first violins was caught in a web of pizzicato and served to illustrate the two groups locked in combat; a conflict neither side would win. Acknowledgement of this dichotomy came by way of another long held chord by both quartets, now spent, which ended the work.




Conspirare is one of the real gems of the Austin art scene. Their recent release, Samuel Barber: An American Romantic, made its debut at #10 on the Billboard Classical Music charts and is the most recent result of their $1 million dollar expanded recording program with the label Harmonia Mundi. Their Legacy of Sound initiative also provides significant funding for the commissioning of new works, and two of those works, If I Were A Swan and To Touch the Sky by Kevin Puts, were recently premiered by Conspirare with the composer on hand. Conspirare’s focus is always on the music, but their presentation is also compelling. As they have in previous concerts, Conspirare began by entering from the back of the room and populating the aisles for the first work, Rene Clausen’s Tonight Eternity Alone. The work began with gentle minor pentatonic melodies slowly cascading as two sopranos broke through, rising above the texture. As the piece closed, Conspirare continued to the stage to perform Steven Stucky’s O sacrum convivium (in memoriam Thomas Tallis). In marked contrast to the Clausen, the Stucky was rhythmically explosive and tonally ambiguous with symmetrical chords sliding up and down in the propulsive texture.

Kevin Puts

Kevin Puts

Following the Stucky was the world premiere of the first commission, Puts’s If I Were A Swan. Starting almost imperceptibly, the male and female voices traded staggered entrances, with the women ultimately yielding to rapid sixteenth notes in the male voices on the plosive “puh.” [1] At moments, these sixteenths were (Phillip) Glass-like as they appeared and faded, playing hide and seek as they traded places with other rising and falling lines. An eventual return to the initial texture intimated an ending, but not before the sixteenths reappeared, giving a bright ending to the work. This concert was part of the Conspirare “Signature Series” in which new works are paired with those that have become part of the Conspirare canon [2], so the remaining works on the first half were terrific arrangements of (and new works based on) spirituals. The second half began with the centerpiece of the concert, Puts’s To Touch the Sky. Set in nine movements, the work was described by Puts as his first “mature attempt at writing for unaccompanied chorus.” Based on the concept of the “divine feminine” manifest in many of the world’s religions, Puts found a variety of texts reflective of this phenomenon to use in the work. The smooth polyphony of the first movement, “Annunciation,” acted as a strong counter to the rising chromaticism of the second, “Unbreakable.” The third and fourth movements also had a paired quality, the former driving, pulsing, (recalling the sixteenths from If I Were A Swan) the latter gentle and quite short. The fifth movement was the longest and served as the centerpiece of the work. Initially evocative of early church music, the quasi-modal language and rhythmically simple delivery was quite effective. The 3/4 time signature was largely populated by a half note/quarter note rhythm which anchored the piece as the soprano line broke from the pack, rising as a string of suspensions played out below. Pairings not dissimilar to the opening movements followed, highlights of which were the whispering susurrus of the seventh movement, “Who has seen the wind?” and the high, clean, and pure boys choir quality of the final movement “Most noble evergreen” which, after a few cadential teases, brought the piece to an end.

The final portion of the concert mirrored the collections of spirituals, this time drawing from arrangements of Sondheim and Bernstein as well as folk music icon Woody Guthrie and local favorite Eliza Gilkyson. I attended the show on Sunday, but both Friday’s and Saturday’s performances of To Touch the Sky were recorded by Harmonia Mundi for an upcoming live concert CD. This recording will be produced in collaboration with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in conjunction with a recording of Puts’s Fourth Symphony under the direction of Marin Alsop.

2011 marked the 30th anniversary of Texas Performing Arts, and this is the 20th anniversary season of Conspirare. Both organizations are shining examples of the world-class art that Austin has to offer; compelling evidence that alongside the spectacular popular music festivals, high-tech industry, amazing food, and dynamic lifestyle, Austin has an art music scene worthy of the world stage.

And these two groups are just hitting their stride.


** Dan Welcher is a professor of composition at the Butler School of Music at UT Austin where I’m a doctoral student.


1. Try it. Puh puh puh puh. It works quite well.

2. Make no mistake; this audience knows its Conspirare canon. The concert program was divided into four sections, some of which had works listed in the program that were not played. For example, the first section had five pieces, of which only three were played. When it was announced that the Tarik O’Regan work I Had No Time To Hate was not to be played, a loud groan rose from the crowd.

Talk About Sound: Austin’s Mother Falcon

Mother Falcon

Mother Falcon – Photo by by Brian Rindfuss

Austin’s Mother Falcon is comprised of an ever-changing group of performers, mostly string players, who’ve taken their classical training and background and applied it to their own music. Their sound is born of instrumentation largely rooted in the world of classical music mixed with a healthy dose of an indie rock aesthetic. After recording an EP and a full-length album, as well as garnering a number of accolades in Austin, Mother Falcon has begun to branch out into new ventures, including projects involving education and film. I sat down with Nick Gregg and Matt Puckett to talk about the past, present, and future of the group.

Tracks excerpted in this podcast (in the order in which they appear):

“Alligator Teeth”

All titles from the album Alhamabra

The Soundbridge Project: Classical Music Out Of the Halls

Look, there are plenty of lovely places to hear folks play their fiddles, trumpets, and Macbooks. Concert halls abound, and many of these have been around fuh-ev-uh. For the most part they are thoughtfully designed and perfectly suited for soaking up all the sonic goodness on display, all from the comfort of a relatively plush chair and with just the right amount of attitude adjustment that a frighteningly overpriced glass of chardonnay has to offer.

So why are we always trying to pry classical music out of those cold, dead hands [1] ?

Probably because there is a large contingent of folks out there who would like to hear these pieces sans just about all the stuff above. I do, on occasion, enjoy putting on a coordinated outfit and drinking from something with a stem prior to my fiddle intake, but for me this is more of a Thanksgiving/Presidents’ Day once-a-year deal than a monthly water bill situation. For my regular listening, I prefer smaller, less formal venues, and fortunately I’m not alone.

P. Kellach Waddle has established himself as a composer, bassist, and local impresario (not necessarily in that order), and over the last few decades he has had a hand in a wide variety of multidisciplinary projects involving all sorts of Austin institutions. Live music with film at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, music about wine with Grapevine Market, and Banned Books at Book People are just a few of the projects that Waddle has directed and performed in over the years. His latest is “The Soundbridge Project,” which he developed with flutist Lauryn Gould at Cherrywood Coffeehouse.

The most recent Soundbridge show started with Waddle (Gould could not participate in this particular event) introducing the first of three sets of music. Each set featured something old and something new, and in the case of set one all the new music was written within the last 20 years and some “as recently as eleven days ago.” A few short works for bass were followed by several classical duets for horn performed by Jenni Wieland and Leah Morgan Durrett.

P.K. Waddle and Elaine Martin Barber

P.K. Waddle and Elaine Martin Barber.

After a short break, Waddle returned to perform music featuring bass and harp. The first work, Waddle’s Abandoning The Edge of The San Antonio Sunrise: Impression-Satz for bass and harp made a somewhat disconnected and blurred impression. Ostinati in the bass would form and disappear quickly, while long gestures in the harp performed by Austin Symphony Principal Harpist Elaine Martin Barber would lead to brief moments of consensus between the instruments before they went their separate ways. The whimsically titled (a descriptor which could describe virtually any Waddle tune; the guy does not simply write “Sonata for Bass”) Cereal Music: Sonatina in Three Movements after K. Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions made a play on serialism/cerealism with very subtle nods towards Arnie’s school in the harmonic content and a few towards Kellogg’s camp in the movement titles. Movement one, “Blueberry Morning,” featured driving arpeggios in the bass trading with bright chords in the harp. The multi-stops in the second movement, “Frosted Flakes,” played nicely against the loping arpeggios in the harp, and the hidden gigue in the third movement, “Lucky Charms,” was quite attractive, though both were hidden at times in the rise and fall of the sounds surrounding the performers. This conflict was an issue from time to time throughout the show. The performance space at Cherrywood is located on one side of a large rectangular room and is separated by a low wall which reads a bit like a long breakfast bar. While this provides a great physical separation for the performance space, it does little to facilitate the separation necessary to hear music with a wide dynamic range; a characteristic that describes most “classical” music. I was torn at times between the charm of the venue and its patrons and the combined volume of the two.

Seetha Shivaswamy, P.K. Waddle, and Rebecca Marie Fairweather Haskins. Photo by Chris Bieter

Seetha Shivaswamy, P.K. Waddle, and Rebecca Marie Fairweather Haskins. Photo by Chris Bieter.

The last set for flute, oboe, and bass featured Waddle joined by flutist Seetha Shivaswamy and oboist Rebecca Marie Fairweather Haskins in the world premiere performance of Waddle’s KaffeeTraumen; Dreams of Coffee: Trio in forma di 6 Impression – bagatelles for Flute, Oboe, Bass, an ode to the black stuff, as well as a variety of trio music by L. Mozart, W. A. Mozart , and Stamitz. KaffeTraumen was in six movements, the first moody and shifty with subtle interplay in the winds and with the bass in its traditional role, the second peppered with quasi-neoclassical quirks—rhythmically engaging and harmonically inviting. The fourth movement loosely described the nightmare of a house without coffee and was followed by the relief of coffee returned. In the final movement, Shivaswamy and Fairweather Haskins ran a relay race in slow motion, trading lengthy lines back and forth while Waddle maintained his supporting position.

It was a well portioned show with sets of a length (approximately 15, 30, and 30 minutes respectively) that held the audience’s attention while providing the occasional break. The traditional 60 minute first set, 15-20 minute intermission, and 45 minute second set that you often find in concert settings has never sat well with me. I always feel like the long intermission takes me too far out of the experience. The set organization for this show shared a certain kinship with the pacing of television (gasp!) with the shorter breaks reading more like commercials. I’ve lately been of the opinion that one long set is the way to go, but the shorter multi-set arrangement allows for breaks and shorter concentrated shots of music while also giving the audience an opportunity to show up after the first set or leave before the last set. And while presenters naturally want the audience to stay for the whole show, the multi-set concept does perhaps take the pressure off someone whose dance card might be a bit full that night and who would otherwise have to bow out altogether. Of course, this isn’t really an option in the larger and more opulent halls, but venues like Cherrywood are more flexible. As long as Waddle and Company continue presenting compelling shows that combine music with the character of the venue, I suspect people will keep coming out to check out the performances.

Beer Concerto anyone?

1. Their hands are neither cold nor dead, so lighten up people.