Present Music Finishes with Genre-Bending Show

"Neon Life" will feature five contemporary compositions.

By - Jun 10th, 2021 03:09 pm
Neon Life. Image from Present Music.

Neon Life. Image from Present Music.

The COVID-19 pandemic struck the local arts particularly hard. We learned even more how important the arts are to our cultural community and to our economy.

For many performing arts groups, the year was one of retreat; to develop plans for another day. For a few groups, the year was one of invention. No response was more impressive in Milwaukee than that of Present Music led by co-artistic directors Eric Segnitz and David Bloom. Although a small organization, Present Music rose to a new level, creating new experiences, forging new partnerships and leaving a legacy of new materials. They close their season with a performance titled “Neon Lights“, premiering Friday, June 11th.

From the start of the year, collaborative work with other artists pushed the Present Music envelope. Extraordinary video work, high-quality studio recording and integrated programming produced solid sets from start to finish that are all now available to review and enjoy again. Previously, the performances have been available to ticket-holders for three months after a performance.

To close the year, Present Music offers a concert consolidating the new paradigm. There will be no turning back. Although much of the performance was done in Turner Hall, a familiar venue, a commitment to high-quality audio and video recording promises a unique experience. It won’t feel like sitting on folding chairs many rows back, straining to see and hear the ensemble high on the stage in the Turner Hall Ballroom. Much of the music world celebrates through both live performances and recordings, and 21st century “classical” music deserves the same opportunity.

Present Music’s closing concert of the 2020-2021 season presents five ensemble works already recognized for their staying power. That is, there are no new commissions on the program. Each work has been recorded in one form or another. I would bet that the Present Music recordings will be among the best.

Promotional material argues that “five vibrant new pieces by Aviya Kopelman, Henry Threadgill, David Lang, Tansy Davies, and Daniel Kidane, traverse the full spectrum of human experience — from gritty to majestic, funky to eloquent.” All the works depend upon strong ensemble playing, so there will be few starring roles. Although the styles vary, each brings fresh, unpredictable energy with frequent changes in rhythm and participation. All will appeal to listeners favoring contemporary genre-rejecting music.

The works have names that adequately capture the images and experiences they conjure – Tansy Davies, “Neon”; Aviya Kopelman, “Neon Lights”; Daniel Kidane, “Winged”; David Lang, “Learn to Fly”. The fifth, a jazz-infused Old Locks and Irregular Verbs by Henry Threadgill has been revised for the full ensemble.

The concert will include four short videos created for Present Music by TankThink. The videos, inspired by substantive Twentieth Century contemporary composer Louis Andriessen. His illuminate Life will be extracted for the videos.

Present Music ticket holders gain access to the polished performances as a complete concert this Friday evening at 7:30 p.m. The program will bracket the evening within a Zoom session, allowing informal introductions before and open conversation after the concert. The community created over nearly 40 years will be celebrated by these glimpses of ‘galleries’ of audience members anticipating creative years ahead.

Urban Milwaukee members can request a free ticket here, while supplies last.

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