Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

This past Tuesday, Dr. Nickitas Demos from Georgia State University put on the third of four concerts in his annual neoPhonia New Music Ensemble series, and while the program changed unexpectedly before beginning due to technical difficulties, the concert we were treated to was an unmitigated triumph.

In my five years of attending Georgia State as a Music Industry/Sound Recording major, Dr. Demos’s neoPhonia concerts were always my favorites to go to. And in the years since my graduation in 2001, I’ve always tried to make as many of these concerts as possible. Apart from saying hello to a former professor whom I learned a lot from (I studied composition and orchestration from Dr. Demos in 2000-01), and possibly other people I either went to school with or studied under (such as Dr. Robert Scott Thompson, my recording professor and himself an accomplished composer), the neoPhonia shows have been opportunities for me to not only discover classic works from 20th Century masters like Ligeti and Donald Erb but also to hear what lesser-known composers (as well as some of my contemporaries) are doing musically. The result has been a richer and more varied look at contemporary classical music than I’m likely to expect nearly anywhere else.

Tuesday’s concert was entitled “Related Pitches,” and featured a varied of works written for the saxophone and clarinet family of instruments. The evening began with “Duo Sonata” by Gregory Wanamaker, a four movement work performed by GSU faculty member Kenneth Long (clarinet) and Jan Berry Bake (alto saxophone). One of the things I’ve found that has helped my appreciation for the eclectic works neoPhonia presents over the years is my ability to just close my eyes and focus less on the performers and more on the music. This has allowed me to take in the works on a more emotional level than simply just watching the performers play virtuoso runs and complex rhythms. “Duo Sonata” with its brief but varied moods from movement to movement was most effective for me as a listener when I did this, in particular during the 2nd Movement’s “Elegy” and the 3rd Movement’s “Scherzo.”

Up next was the 2001 work “Saksti” by Georgia Spiropoulos and performed by guest performer Theofilos Sotiriadis on tenor saxophone. Utilizing electronic patches and algorithms created in the Max/Msp programming language and following through “lists” in the OpenMusic program, “Saksti” is the type of immersive musical experience it’s difficult to get on a regular basis in the Atlanta are (but is common at many neoPhonia shows), as the performer plays the notated music into microphones that feed the audio into a computer, which in turn manipulates the data input into various musical “effects” that play as counterpoint to the music written out on the score. It’s an exciting way of musical creation that utilizes both analog and digital performance that provides a truly unique experience for the listener as the performer is responsible for multiple layers of sound. While I myself have written music in the past for both live performers combined with electronics, I don’t have the patience to create such works as “Saksti,” making me all the more impressed when I hear one as beautifully executed as this. (My approach to live/electronic pieces hues closer to writing a concerto of sorts, with the live performer(s) acting as soloists while the electronics back them up.)

Up next on the program was Dr. Demos’s “Tonoi VII,” written in 2009 for solo alto saxophone. The “Tonoi” pieces are an ongoing series for solo performers of different instruments. I’d heard a few of the other pieces in this series, and the connective tissue is technical challenges and continuous structure, although there are clear “movements” or breaks in performance for the performer (in this case, Sotiriadis again) to observe. It was another compelling and dynamic performance by Sotiriadis, whom has performed the piece several times before, and another successful composition in the series for Demos.

Following “Tonoi VII” was “Glint,” composed by Roshanne Etezady in 2007 for clarinet and alto sax. Once again Kenneth Long and Jan Jerry Baker took the stage and performed beautifully, navigating the work’s complex musicality with conviction and feeling that shone through in every phase of the piece. After “Glint” came “Forget Me Not” by Giorgos Koukmendakis, which brought Sotiriadis back on-stage one final time (another piece he was to play, Elainie Lilios’s “Veiled Resonance,” was the one bumped due to technical difficulties) for another virtuoso performance.

Closing out the evening was the premiere of Dr. Demos’s “Citizens of Nowhere,” performed on B-Flat and bass clarinets by Long and soprano and alto saxes by Baker. This was probably my second-favorite performance and piece of the evening (following “Saksti”), as Dr. Demos has the performers change between instruments to create different aural combinations for the ear to take in while creating a musical atmosphere in the phrases and composition itself that are engulfing to take in. It was a superb and satisfying way to close out the concert, leaving the listener with the feeling of having heard something they had never experienced before, which is as true of the piece that had just debuted as it was about the program as a whole, which gave this brass player a greater appreciation of the musical variety possible with these particular instrument families.

Brian Skutle

Categories: News, News - Music

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