Kevin Stalheim’s Last Waltz

After 37 years his last show as artistic director. After party features Mrs. Fun, R&B Cadets.

By - May 31st, 2019 02:00 pm
Kevin Stalheim. Photo by Angela Morgan courtesy of Present Music.

Kevin Stalheim. Photo by Angela Morgan courtesy of Present Music.

This Saturday, Kevin Stalheim will lead his last Present Music program as Artistic Director after 37 years guiding Milwaukee’s adventurist new music group. The concert will celebrate the hallmarks which have made Present Music one of the most successful contemporary music venues in the country.

I have written previews and occasional reviews which inevitably refer to a shared perception of these events: Expect the unexpected. Enjoy new music through themes that creatively draw experiences and composers together. Anticipate that you will like some works you hear for the first time and quickly forget others. Recognize that other listeners may have very different preferences. Experience an event with unexpected extra-musical components. Come early for activities before a concert. Stay late for further celebration. Allow respected 20th-century composers, unrecognized 21st-century composers and genres beyond classical music to mix. Meet composers at world premieres of their work. Contribute to the funding of new compositions. Celebrate with one of the few multi-generational audiences in Milwaukee.

The experience of Present Music has been best captured by Tom Strini, who has been a friend and reviewer of Kevin’s and his programs for most of the 37 years. I would recommend reading his observations before continuing with mine.

I have personally been a student of the music Present Music plays, and have often marveled at Kevin’s effort to thread material together. The Thanksgiving concert has become a popular secular celebration of community to many of us. The In the Chamber series allowed a more personal perspective on the virtuoso challenges to the players. The spring equinox marked a personal and musical celebration of the dark days of Milwaukee winters and the teasing promise of a Milwaukee summer. Concerts in sculpture gardens and art galleries encouraged a connection between visual and aural experiences. Sometimes during interviews with Kevin within a week of the program, he acknowledged that selections and presentations remained a work in progress. That intuition and interest in keeping things fresh served him well.

Present Music will continue next year under the leadership of co-Artistic Directors Eric Segnitz, longtime violinist with the Present Music Ensemble, and David Bloom, an accomplished conductor and organizer of contemporary music experiences in New York.

The June 1st concert at the Pabst Theater includes more “old” music than usual, often revisiting highlights from past events.

The Buck Native American Singing and Drumming Group will perform traditional music that has bracketed Thanksgiving concert celebrations.

Danceworks will collaborate with an interpretation of “The Emperor Waltz” by Johann Strauss.

John Cage’s vision of music heard from the window of an Apartment House in 1776 will receive the Stalheim treatment with a “community collaboration” imagining sounds from a street in Milwaukee.

John Adams, a long term collaborator with Present Music, will be represented by a major work, Son of Chamber Symphony. The Los Angeles Times describes this typical Adams composition well:

“Son is as difficult as his original chamber symphony, if not more so. The first movement sets out to the accompaniment of a rhythmic motif lifted from the Scherzo of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, then nervously yet confidently scurries all over the place, changing meters all the time. Absorbing its interesting details will require many listenings. The last movement is one of those Adams bucking-bronco blastoffs, riveting and full of surprises.”

Elena Kats-Chernin’s “The Village Idiot,” commissioned and recorded by Present Music, is just the latest example of more than 65 works brought to fruition because of support by Present Music. The lively composition was inspired by an exhibition of paintings by schizophrenic artists, including her son. CD liner notes observe: “The chaotic thought patterns, hyper energy and flashes of profundity can be heard in the opening salvo: pure electricity of harpsichord and strings joined by electric guitar and driving horns that lapse into strains of tango.”

Donald Erb’s Souvenir will be surrounded by a “cacophony of sound and objects” — a celebration of the unexpected.

A string duo, a flute ensemble, a cantor, a gospel singer, drummers, the Hearing Voices Ensemble and the Present Music Ensemble are only a part of the cast.

The concert begins on Saturday, June 1 at 7:30 pm, with a few activities in progress as the audience gathers. An afterparty features Mrs. Fun, Robin Pluer, Sigmund Snopek, Semi-Twang and the R&B Cadets. The Pabst Theater at 144 E. Wells St., Milwaukee offers parking at an underground garage entered from Water Street. Tickets from $25 to $55 may be purchased online, at 414-271-0711 ext. 2 or at the door. Special arrangements for $10 tickets for ‘Friends/Family’ applies to large groups, students, musicians, artists & people in the industry. Call 414-271-0711 for those tickets.

Come early and stay late.

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