Present Music Celebrates Thanksgiving

Annual concert is virtual, but chock full of interesting music.

By - Nov 20th, 2020 02:31 pm

Present Music Thanksgiving 2020Usually held in the magnificent Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, the Present Music November concert celebrates the central Thanksgiving message – community. For many, this secular observance has become an annual tradition. This year the program will be virtual instead.

Entitled “Reality Check,” Present Music’s first concert, on October 24, offered highly polished video performances created on location and recorded in the studio. That concert is available through January 24 online for anyone who purchases a $10 ticket.

With opportunities for studio recording and post-production, musical selections can be more intimate. Co-Artistic Director Eric Segnitz identified the difference: “This November, we’ll trade the grandeur and sanctuary of St. John’s Cathedral for a more inward appreciation; some goodhearted music and togetherness, some old and new friends, some ‘food for the soul.’ ”

Co-Artistic Director David Bloom suggests the challenge of putting together this concert. “The program will be filtered through the limits of technology. We will still send people to YouTube for the best quality,” but he values “the presence visually of others in the audience.” The studio-produced performance will be supplemented with live Zoom conversations and a few musical choices that encourage engagement.

The visceral impact of the Bucks Native American Drumming and Singing Group may not shake the room you are watching from, but representatives of the group will sing and play from their homes.

The Reagan High School Choir will lead a sing-along for all. Due to the inevitable lag in Zoom sessions, participants will be asked to mute themselves while singing along to a pre-edited version of the choir.

Mark Stewart, a Milwaukee native now deeply rooted in the New York contemporary music scene, will offer an audience participation event. Each audience member is invited to play along with him in a process he has labeled a “private duet.” This unique experience is demonstrated online at a Tedx Big Apple event.

The produced sections include several intimate works that fit the Thanksgiving and community theme.

The event’s title is borrowed from a piano composition by Robin Holcomb, Wherein Lies the Good, described as “a fusion of various Americana inspired sounds, sometimes reminiscent of composer Aaron Copland‘s Appalachian Spring.”

Wauwatosa native Michael Torke will be represented by a work for piano and violin, “Spoon Bread.” Torke often suggests tangible objects in his music, and Spoon Bread captures a down-home flavor that fits a Thanksgiving theme. Concert pianist Melinda Lee Masur will debut with Present Music on piano.

Stewart will be represented in an all-encompassing meal-time prayer “To Whom it May Concern, Thank You” for guitar and string quartet.

Alex Weisser

Alex Weisser

The Reagan High School choir will sing a section of a work by Angélica Negrón, Chorus of the Forest. The words celebrate the forest – its fragility, resilience, and how trees collaborate to make space for one another. Bloom identifies the text with our current situation — “opportunities that lie ahead of us if we do work together.” A recorded presentation allows for subtitles to appreciate the text. The full work online, recorded on an autumn day in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, reveals the full scope of the work: a site-specific soundscape similar to those of John Luther Adams, whose Inuksuit was performed several years ago by Present Music at the Bradley Sculpture Gardens.

All the days were purple, a song cycle by Alex Weisser, was a finalist last year for the Pulitzer Prize in music. Selecting poetry in English and Yiddish, Weisser “chronicles the human impulse to seek out the divine while reflecting on the longing, beauty, and tumult of life,” Bloom observes. “The music feels like an embrace. I feel that this music is reaching out and hugging me.” Subtitles will also be available for this work, although Weisser points out that Yiddish phrases continue their relevance when there may be no adequate English translation.

There will be no line dances around the sanctuary or music resonating from the rafters. This concert will celebrate community in a fresh way, with musical offerings reflecting warm memories, intimate ensembles, and contemplative lyrics. Segnitz labels the set “a Shaker’s quilt of exquisite and diverse pieces which, when joined, contribute to a larger design.” The event is certain to reflect the substantial commitment by Present Music to continue producing quality musical experiences even in the face of restrictions challenging the creative community.

A $10 ticket offers access to the Thanksgiving concert as well as an opportunity to revisit the concert for three months online. A season ticket offers a discount as well as access to the memorable October concert.

The next Present Music event, scheduled for December 4, has been modified. An in-person Unsilent Night, which pictured the audience in an outdoors event in downtown Milwaukee has been dialed back to a free online Winter Hootenanny while COVID-19 continues to ravage Wisconsin.

If you’re an Urban Milwaukee member you can get a promo code for a free ticket to the concert here, while supplies last.

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