Monday, April 25, 2011

Alarm Will Sound "1969" Denver Concert

Alarm Will Sound's "1969" concert in Denver was a real treat, especially when considering there has been only one other performance of the work's full version, at Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall. The generative idea behind this evening-length composition is a purported planned meeting between the Beatles and Karlheinz Stockhausen on February 9, 1969 at Lukas Foss's New York apartment. While the meeting never happened, the notion of establishing a connection between the pop and avant-garde music worlds intrigued Alan Pierson, Alarm Will Sound's Conductor and Artistic Director, to start developing this unusual work. The other main concern of "1969" is looking at the relationship between music and the revolutionary sociopolitical events taking place.

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Pre-concert discussion with Director Nigel Maister
and Conductor Alan Pierson
This ambitious piece assembles music from The Beatles, Stockhausen, Luciano Berio, Leonard Bernstein, etc., and often the original pieces are types of mashups themselves ("Revolution 9" from the Beatles, Mass from Bernstein, Sinfonia from Berio, etc.). There are also 3 screens onstage, showing familiar images from those heady times (the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, Vietnam, John and Yoko, etc.) The musicians themselves portray numerous key characters, declaiming actual first-person dialogue throughout.
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I recall, when studying music around the time, the huge gap between pop vs. "serious" music. After analyzing Schoenbergian tone rows, you'd return home to play, say, the latest from the Jefferson Airplane. These realms were far apart. It's been a wonderful development over the years to see these worlds overlap and become quite common in today's alt-classical scene.

"1969" is effectively created and very skillfully performed. Those expecting some Big Message will be disappointed, but it seems wise to avoid a simplistic summary. The voices were sometimes unclear. The final link to 2011 seemed a little forced.

It was wonderful to have the opportunity to attend this significant concert, and major credit goes to Steve Seifert, the imaginative director of the Newman Center Presents series at the Univ. of Denver. He clearly knows what is worthwhile and engaging in today's new music world. Steve has also managed to bring us Gabriel Kahane, Burkina Electra, Andy Akiho, Evan Ziporyn, Michael Harrison, and So Percussion. Next season, he's developing some impressive plans bringing the hot JACK Quartet to town.

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Stephen Seifert

Amidst today's panic about dwindling classical audiences, it's impressive that this Denver concert drew about the same-sized audience as the New York concert. It helps that Denver's main classical critic, the Denver Post's astute Kyle MacMillan, has enthusiastically written about these new music concerts.

Lest we take such presentations for granted, I note how the Univ. of Colorado's Artist Series in Boulder for years has settled for safe, conservative, unadventurous programming. They could learn from their southern neighbors.