Festival director Christopher Burns and performers Sarah Plum, Jamie Jordan and the Spektral Quartet talk new-music.
Composers, performers and aficionados of contemporary music will be busy this week, as the Unruly Music fall festival takes over Vogel Hall of the Marcus Center. Performers include soprano Jamie Jordan on Thursday, violinist Sarah Plum on Friday and the Spektral Quartet on Saturday, Oct. 18-20. They’ll represent composers from the local (UWM faculty member Christopher Burns, Appleton composer Andrew Seager Cole) to the national and international (Thomas Adès, George Crumb, Mari Takano, and Kaija Saariaho).
Burns founded Unruly Music in the fall of 2006. It began at the UWM Peck School of the Arts Recital Hall, then moved to the Marcus Center in 2009. To date, 60 Unruly concerts have occurred. Past performers include Arditti Quartet violinist Graeme Jennings (at the very first Unruly Music concert), pianist Gloria Cheng, khaen performer Christopher Adler, and the ensembles NOISE, Formalist String Quartet, Thelema Trio from Belgium, sfSound, Yarn/Wire, and C2.
One guiding concept is to focus on performers and performance rather than composers and compositions. Burns selects soloists and ensembles and leaves the programs up to them.
So how do the performers select their pieces?
“The program for Unruly Music developed in an organic way,” said Sarah Plum. Sidney Corbett, an old friend, introduced her to composers Christopher Adler, Matthew Burtner, Burns and Takano. “Ben Fuhrman’s piece was recommended to me by a former student, and it just clicked.”
Connections also played a part in Jamie Jordan’s program: “I found Andrew [Seager Cole] via his wife, composer Asha Srinivasan (who teaches at Lawrence University), and Rob [McClure] found me through Andrew.” Jordan made a point of selecting pieces by veteran composers. “Allan Schindler, Professor of Electronic Music at Eastman, wrote Shattered Glaciers for me last year; it’s a rhapsody about lost love. Kaija Saariaho’s Lonh is about unrequited love.” She also points out that “the four pieces couldn’t be much more different from one another, except for the fact that they are for voice and electronics.”
The Spektral Quartet collectively describes their programming in very succinct terms: “If the gentlemen of Spektral Quartet were to pick favorites from the group’s repertoire, George Crumb’s Black Angels, Hans Thomalla’s Albumblatt and Thomas Ades’ Arcadiana would certainly be on the short list.”
Plans are already underway for the spring Unruly fest, to include a return of the Spektral Quartet and appearances by the Milwaukee Laptop Orchestra and the Great Lakes Improvising Orchestra, and for the more distant future. Burns says his dream list is long, but he must address certain realities. With changes in immigration laws, it is harder to reach out to Europe. Finances are such that bringing in large ensembles from the coasts involves a great deal of grant writing. But Burns also notes that there is a great deal of interesting music happening in the Midwest, and he is very interested in strengthening connections to Minneapolis and Chicago.
“Good question,” Burns said. “Unruly Music isn’t going to come into your house and break your furniture. But I think the name does reflect the festival’s willful disregard of categories and boundaries — music from close to home, and from around the world. Acoustic and electric. ‘Pure music’ and multimedia collaborations with film, video, and theater. Composition and improvisation, and so on. I hope it also signifies the approachability of the festival: black tie definitely not required!”
Unruly Music is a co-production of the Peck School of the Arts at UWM and the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.
All concerts at begin 7:30 p.m. in Marcus Center Vogel Hall, Marcus Center Vogel Hall, 929 N. Water St. (Enter on State Street.) Tickets are available from the Marcus Center box office (414) 273-7206 and the Peck School of the Arts box office (414) 229-4308. $12 adult / $10 seniors, UWM faculty, staff, alumni and other university students / $9 UWM students / $5 ages 13-18 and PSOA students / Free for under 12 and music majors.