Contemporaneous’ bio states that the ensemble is “dedicated to performing the most exciting music that […] captures the spirit of the present moment.” Do you mean it in an Epicurean way, or just the Zeitgeist? What’s going on in the world—musical or not—that echoes with you these days?
One thing that resonates with me and all of us at Contemporaneous is the dizzying variety of what’s going on in today’s world and the unprecedented interconnectedness of it all. Different composers see and portray the world in different ways, which is yet another exciting element of the diversity in the world we all share. Because of this, every composer, and every piece of music, has a different answer to your question. Whereas some works choose to represent a small slice of their current experience, others strive to find universals in human experience. The important thread is that the music we perform is directly linked to today even though — and in fact all the more so because — the links themselves are all so different.
Even though the ensemble has already performed in major venues—the next one being Merkin Hall on April 11 as part of the Tribeca New Music Festival—you are mostly active in the Hudson Valley. How do you feel about this “commuter” status?
We have the incredible pleasure of being based at Bard College, which is home not only to a lot of really great musicians, but also to a fiercely supportive fan base that we have developed over the past two years. We feel equally at home in New York City, where we are always welcomed by fantastically adventurous and receptive audiences and the terrific new music community. We are a mobile and flexible group of musicians who are dedicated to reaching as many people as possible with the greatest music of our time, and we are perfectly willing to travel to do exactly this. Many of our musicians study at Bard, but a growing number of our core members are young artists based in New York. When they come upstate to rehearse and perform with us, they are actually the commuters, so there is always travel involved even when we are not playing in New York. I like our mobile status since it allows us to share new music with people from all over and I hope that travel will always remain as an element of what we do.
On top of performing music by numerous composers, you are champions of Dylan Mattingly’s music, the de facto composer in residence. How would you describe Dylan’s music?
Dylan has developed a really distinguishable and confident musical voice to an extent that is very rare among composers of his age. He claims the influences of Joni Mitchell, John Adams, the old American blues, and Magnus Lindberg alike, but his music is not merely a blending of all of them. Instead, it lives in a plane of its own that intersects metaphysically with the crossroads of these inspirations. My favorite part about Dylan’s music is the way it combines a contagiously improvisational spontaneity and an incredibly compelling dramatic arch into an utterly transcendent musical experience.
On April 11, you will also be conducting Symphony Z, another brand new ensemble. Is it a subset of Contemporaneous?
Symphony Z is actually an entirely different entity from Contemporaneous. It’s a New York City-based group that plays the music of William Zuckerman, a young composer living in Brooklyn and writing some amazing music. It’s a really cool coincidence that Symphony Z’s debut is on the same show with Contemporaneous since they are my two main musical commitments. There are a few overlapping players between the two groups, but I’m actually the only one performing with both at Merkin. I really love working with both groups and think that Preston Stahly, the artistic and executive director of the Tribeca New Music Festival, made a very insightful musical decision in pairing Dylan and Bill together on this show.
Now the icing on the cake is that the 11th will also act as the release event for Contemporaneous’ debut album on Innova Recordings: Stream of Stars. What’s next for you guys?
That’s right — we are really excited about the album! It features three works that Dylan wrote specifically for us, including Atlas of Somewhere on the Way to Howland Island, the chamber orchestra work that we are performing at Merkin on April 11.
What’s next for us is more of the greatest music of this generation. Right on the heels of our Merkin performance will be a big show at Bard of three recent chamber works of John Adams: Gnarly Buttons, Son of Chamber Symphony, and String Quartet. Further ahead, we have plans do some really cool stuff next season, including Sean Friar’s Clunker Concerto, for a junk-car-part-playing percussion quartet with chamber orchestra, Kyle Gann’s multimedia astrological voyage The Planets, and epic new works by Gabriela Smith and Contemporaneous clarinetist/composer Conor Brown. There are plenty more exciting plans in the works, so please check back with us to see more of what’s next!
Wesnesday, April 11, 2011 at 8 pm | Merkin Hall: Contemporaneous and Symphony Z
Make sure to check the rest of the program at http://www.tribecanewmusic.org