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Baltimore’s new-music concert series Mobtown Modern and Evolution return

Photo: Justin Bernhaut, License: N/A

Justin Bernhaut

The JACK Quartet opens the 2011-2012 Mobtown Modern concert series Sept. 14 at 2640 Space.


Mobtown Modern Concert Series

Opens Sept. 14 at 2640 Space

For more information visit mobtownmodern.com.

The Evolution Contemporary Music Series

Opens Sept. 20 at An Die Musik

For more information visit evolutionseries.org.

The upstart New York-based JACK Quartet has won an ardent following among fans of contemporary music, not least because of its acclaimed 2009 recording of the complete quartets of Romania-born avant-garde eminence Iannis Xenakis. And as part of its fall schedule—which includes stops in the Czech Republic, New York, Northern California, and Vancouver—JACK is stopping at the 2640 Space in Baltimore on Sept. 14 to play the complete Xenakis quartets, a thorough accounting of his bracing rewrite/rewire of the basic possibilities of violins, viola, and cello, as part of the Mobtown Modern series.

“You’re not going to hear that this year in Philadelphia, you’re not going to hear that in Washington,” Mobtown Modern curator Brian Sacawa says. “You’re only going to hear that in Baltimore.”

As the mainstream classical-music world winds down the summer festivals and pops programs and turns toward rehearsals for season-opening concerts, Baltimore’s foremost new-music concert series are prepping for their 2011-2012 seasons. Mobtown Modern enters its fifth season with an impressive lineup and a lot to prove. The Evolution Contemporary Music Series, curated by local composer Judah Adashi, enters its seventh season with a theme explicitly linking contemporary music with the other arts. Both series hope to build on what they set out to do from the start: provide more programming for contemporary composition in Baltimore while growing the audience for late 20th-/early 21st-century music.

Adashi, who teaches at the Peabody Institute, says that he began planning the forthcoming season of Evolution as he always does. “Things always start with the composers I want to represent and the repertoire I want to represent, and then I try to figure out some kind of overarching concept that can hold all that together,” he says by phone from the Providence, R.I., airport. “And this season what came together was looking at music through the lens of other artistic disciplines and history, politics, things like that.”

The stated theme for the new Evolution season, which begins with a reception and preview concert at series home base An die Musik on Sept. 20, is Beyond Music. The music of Peabody faculty member Michael Hersch will be the focus of a Nov. 1 concert; Evolution will present performances of Hersch’s the wreckage of flowers, based on the work of Polish writer Czeslaw Milosz, and Fourteen Pieces, based on the work of writer Primo Levi. An die Musik will also display drawings by local artist Nicholas Cairns inspired by Hersch’s pieces, which in turn, Adashi says, involve the composer’s response to the Sept. 11 attacks a decade ago.

“[T]he music always has to stand on its own, and that goes without saying,” Adashi says. But by delving into the inspirations for new music, especially the nonmusical sort, “you get a glimpse of the springboard for the composer, and it gives the audience a different sort of point of entry. . . . Offering context, offering some sort of touchstone for the listener is a good thing.”

The Evolution series continues with a program titled Liederabend 2.0 on Dec. 6, featuring vocal music based on texts from the likes of Pablo Neruda (composed by Peter Lieberson) and Louise Glück (composed by Adashi). A Feb. 7, 2012 concert also has a literary bent, showcasing two compositions inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest: Paul Moravec’s Tempest Fantasy and Kaija Saariaho’s Tempest Songbook. Painter Francisco Goya and writer Franz Kafka were overt influences on the music of composer Martin Bresnick, who will attend an Evolution program of his work on March 6, 2012.

The multidisciplinary emphasis provides a handy organizing theme, and also dovetails with one of Evolution’s main goals: expanding the contemporary-music audience in Baltimore. “You don’t want to just draw in people who are interested in new music,” Adashi says. “You want to draw in people who are interested in new theater and in new art and in new anything really.”

The Evolution season closes on April 3, 2012, with a return engagement from French new-music titan International Contemporary Ensemble. The upcoming Mobtown Modern series also features big new-music names. After the JACK Quartet opens the season, the series follows up on Nov. 9 with the Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble, a Michigan-based ensemble that has won raves and wide renown (in new-music terms, anyway) for its performances and recordings of such new-music cornerstones as Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians and Terry Riley’s In C. MM’s annual holiday season performance of Phil Kline’s Unsilent Night, a composition for massed boomboxes whose performance has become a Baltimore tradition, takes place Dec. 3. A concert featuring Philip Glass’ Music With Changing Parts takes place Jan. 26, 2012, followed by pianist/new-music champion Adam Tendler’s performance of John Cage’s epochal prepared piano work Sonatas and Interludes on Feb. 15, 2012. Composer and bass clarinetist Michael Lowenstern comes to Baltimore April 12, 2012, for an MM concert of his music.

This Mobtown Modern season is a bit different than those past. For one, it offers fewer concerts (six; there were 10 during the 2010-2011 season). For another, it’s the first season MM is presenting as a stand-alone entity, not as a program under the auspices of the Contemporary Museum.

Sacawa says MM is doing fewer concerts for a reason. “I stretched a little thin [last year] in terms of having a sizable audience at each show with the number of shows we did,” he says. “So this year I wanted to focus on getting some superior artists and really cool music, kind of concentrating down what I did last year into a more potent form.”

The break with the Contemporary, on the other hand, took place after former Contemporary Executive Director Irene Hofman left the museum in fall 2010. “There was a really good synergy and energy with [her],” Sacawa says. “With the change in leadership, the chemistry just wasn’t there anymore.” While he takes pains to express his gratitude for the Contemporary’s support for the series, he adds that “there are a lot of positives in that Mobtown Modern is going to be its own entity now.” Sacawa has his work cut out for him, however, especially considering his demanding schedule as a saxophonist for the ever-touring U.S. Army Field Band and as a new-music performer himself.

Sacawa hopes Mobtown Modern can continue to build on its success to date. To that end, he has launched a Kickstarter online fundraising campaign to raise $5,000 for the season. Bringing in an internationally renowned group such as the JACK Quartet isn’t cheap; the deadline for the Kickstarter campaign falls on Sept. 15, the day after the Xenakis performance.

“We have a fairly large following and a lot of people coming to shows and who ‘like’ this or that online or whatever,” Sacawa says, “but unfortunately a lot of people who are into this kind of music don’t have a lot to put behind it. It’s really imperative that some funds get raised . . . to continue at the level we’ve set for ourselves the last four years.”

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