Present Music Offers Free Online Concert

Works by Steve Reich, Angelica Negron and Milwaukee native and Pulitzer Prize finalist Michael Torke.

By - May 21st, 2020 12:52 pm
Present Music: Take Out Concert.

Present Music: Take Out Concert.

The spring concert season opens this year on Friday, May 22 with a fully produced online concert by Present Music.

Among the most essential of “non-essential” workers, performing artists have been imagining a future within a “bounce-back” process fueled by wishful thinking. As the spring and summer season of performances disappeared during the lockdown, sporadic efforts to use the Internet have emerged. Much of that experience was summed up in a New York Times essay: “Enough with the livestreams. Seriously. They are, for the most part, a poor compensation, an unsatisfactory compression of artists still learning how to express the fullness of their gifts while on lockdown.”

Present Music has been among the groups experimenting with their options. They have organized three somewhat informal Zoom session Hootenannys for patrons and artists. Each time the audience grew.

Present Music has some advantages other performance groups do not. Most contemporary music composers are still creating and many have participated in conversations online. Live performances, post-edited collaborations, and some archival music allow for a fresh experience. Audience and guests can participate from anywhere in the world. A Swedish artist offered a solo performance at 2:00 a.m. their time. Sophie Dunér, featured at the last Milwaukee concert, checked in from New York, as did co-artistic directors David Bloom and Eric Segnitz. (Segnitz was in New York City when the lockdown started and has not been back to Milwaukee since.) The usual quirky surprises were are also built-in.

In these three Zoom sessions, the audience participated from beyond Milwaukee as well. But Milwaukee remains the essential core of the Present Music community. “Thirty-eight years ago Milwaukee was a more insular place,” Segnitz observes. “We were bringing the world to Milwaukee. Now that has turned around. We are going to be bringing Milwaukee to the rest of the world.”

To replace a scheduled concert on May 22, Present Music will offer a free Take-Out concert online beginning at 7:30 p.m. They will stream on Facebook Live and through Zoom. But the image of the faces of those signing into the Hootenanny Zoom series will be replaced by a focus on the performers and interviews with artists. Selections are chosen to introduce themes for Present Music’s next season. Both Present Music Fall programs will also be online.

The objective will be to curate high-quality productions. Segnitz promises “a program that makes sense, thoughtful, provocative, and exploring a philosophical direction.” Online programming may serve to bring the artists and audience more closely together. Although the May 22 concert will be free, the fall concerts will be ticketed. During the summer less structured Hootenanny online community events will be offered at no cost.

“We are not asking our artists to work for free,” Bloom assures. “We are happy to offer work. We are sad that we are one of the few. It does cost money. But the result is valued higher than it costs.” Tickets have always generated a small proportion of income for performing organizations. Present Music will continue to depend upon donations and grants. They have the advantage of a loyal audience built over the course of nearly 40 years. “We are going to make an entirely new world of art,” Bloom continues. “But this is not a new experience for Present Music audiences, who have come to expect outside of the box thinking. They trust Present Music.”

This Friday evening’s concert will feature a number of artists with a Milwaukee connection. Segnitz recalls his days at the Wisconsin Conservatory many years ago. “Mark Stewart was my roommate on Farwell Avenue and I had known Michael Torke since he was a teenager.” Stewart has been an instrumental part of the New York Bang on a Can series and created the Orchestra of Original Instruments, a found-object percussion ensemble that will be featured in one of the archived performances. Torke was one of three finalists for this year’s Pulitzer Prize for music. He has been commissioned by Present Music for many works.

Photos of performing artists

L-R: Andy Akiho, Angélica Negrón, Richard Reed Parry, Steve Reich, Mark Stewart, Michael Torke

Steve Reich, an established composer featured by Present Music last fall has also created commissions for Present Music. Present Music will feature new works this fall by Milwaukee hip-hop artist, Klassik, whose compositions and video productions are receiving wide attention. In an example of online advantages, check this rap music video by Klassik that includes subtitles.

Angélica Negrón will also participate in Friday’s concert. Her interests include traditional compositions for orchestra, violin and vocal performance, and educational programming for children. Her experimental work with electronic music includes electronic “keyboards” constructed from vegetables. Friday she will “play” house plants.

Music by Nico Muhly, Richard Reed Parry, and Andy Akiho will complete the Friday program. All but Muhly will participate online.

Although Bloom points out that “art music has the ability to address social issues in a really serious way,” this program chooses to focus on “lightness, joy, and optimism.”

That’s a good fit for quarantined times.

To participate yourself check out the details on the concert page. You will need to register to participate in the Zoom session where you may add comments or ask questions in the chat room. The Facebook stream link is also available on this site.

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