Present Music Goes Big in Pandemic

Nine different concert events planned in nine months, starting with pianist Mabel Kwan performing Saturday.

By - Sep 18th, 2020 04:27 pm
Mabel Kwan

Pianist Mabel Kwan

Amidst all the real crises facing the arts community, Present Music, the premier promoter of contemporary classical music in town, has proudly announced an aggressive commitment to performance and a visible presence in Milwaukee even during a pandemic.

In fact, they have announced a larger schedule than usual, with one event for each of the next nine months.

The series begins with an online solo piano concert this Saturday evening, September 19th by Mabel Kwan. Three pianists will offer solo recitals, continuing a series begun in 2019. Michael Mizrahi will play February 20, and long term Present Music associate, Cory Smythe will play April 16.

Four comprehensive concerts are scheduled beginning on October 24. That concert will introduce Klassik, a local DJ, hip-hop artist, and Milwaukee community activist to the Present Music audience. November 22 will reinvent the traditional Thanksgiving Day concert. On March 25 and 26, a themed concert will welcome Spring (and perhaps an emergence from the pandemic) with music featuring the transition from winter to spring. The final concert will reschedule an event canceled last May, a tribute to Ennio Morricone, whose music contributed substantially to making “spaghetti westerns” a popular Italian import in the United States.

Two new events invite the community as full event participants. Phil Kline‘s Unsilent Night will involve a promenade of musicians and audience members in the socially-distanced outdoors of downtown Milwaukee. Participant supplied cell phones and boomboxes will echo music by Kline in a ‘postmodern caroling’ event.

MusicCircus on May 14 is inspired by the playful, exploration of John Cage who found no object unfit to create music. Present Music challenges participants to join with whatever instrument or art form they wish to bring. Other arts organizations will be invited to participate as well.

Present Music 2020-21

Present Music 2020-21

The two participatory events are free. But the recitals and concerts are online ticketed events. As circumstances allow in-person events will be introduced. Programs are designed to open to a limited number of participants as the season progresses and the pandemic recedes.

Present Music has been experimenting with online events since May. The group has managed to resolve a variety of technical issues and has exploited the unexpected intimacy of online gatherings of artists and audience. Artists who might not schedule a stop in Milwaukee have introduced their work. An audience from beyond Milwaukee, even from Europe, has joined the events.

The piano series offers an opportunity to hear a single artist and to explore their special interests. Mabel Kwan is a founding member of the Chicago-based Ensemble Dal Niente. She tours with improvised music group Restroy, synthesizer duo Mega Laverne and Shirley, and electronic/instrumental trio Uluuul. Mabel is a 2018 High Concept Labs Artist and 2017 3Arts Awardee. She is recognized for her work in classical, improvised, and experimental music. Her self-produced work is a meditation on sound, contradictions, and our perceptions of what is familiar or strange.

Kwan explores the piano as an instrument beyond that defined by the standard 88 keys. She experiments with prepared pianos redefining the sound. She has played toy pianos and two pianos simultaneously tuned a quarter-tone apart. She explores the resonance of complex chords and often employs computers to process the sound.

Program sponsor Philip Schuessler has observed:

“Mabel Kwan is quite a virtuoso performer and her repertoire is very challenging but incredibly rewarding to listen to. She is very precise with her playing, so the types of pieces that she chooses to program really compliment her abilities.”

This program includes music by Anna Thorvaldsdittir, Igor Santos, Ann Cleare, Annie Hui-Hsin Hsieh, and Trevor Baca. The sounds are often atmospheric.

Present Music audiences have already been introduced to Thorvaldsdittir, a rising star in 21st Century contemporary music. Critic Anne Midgette writing for the Washington Post has observed that the Icelandic composer “creates small worlds for the ear to inhabit, rather than musical narratives for an audience to follow. It’s music of meditation, less driven by lines than by individual sonic events.”

The soundscapes offered by other composers seem similarly inclined. The titles suggest that. Kwan will play Ann Cleare’s “where cobalt waves live”, Igor Santos’s “(ghosts) behind articulation”, and Annie Hui-Hsin Hsieh’s “Radius”. Composer Trevor Bača suggests an image or images that his work “Mráz” may call to mind:

Under stone, under feather, around the edges of fruit bristles ice in its tracings until morning. So small but so bright it is the crystals in night that give to the frost its serrations.

Welcome to the sound world created by Kwan’s expanded vision of piano music.

Those who purchase tickets for Present Music events participate in conversations with artists and performers before a concert, hear high-quality recorded performances and reconvene for conversation. The performances are archived for repeat listening – an opportunity lost when music is introduced once at a concert with no opportunity to experience it again.

The Mabel Kwan concert begins at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, September 19. Zoom access will be provided when tickets are purchased. The music stream will work separately from the Zoom platform to ensure the best results.

Present Music is offering a range of opportunities to purchase season, package, or individual tickets. The prices are all substantially below the usual costs of in-person tickets. Patron subscribers will be the first to participate in the in-person concerts that may be possible by Spring 2021. Those aware of the unique value of the Present Music experience in Milwaukee should consider the need to contribute further to the work of the organization in this challenging year.

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