Present Music Opening Concert Examines The Nature of Time

The selections explore time, in its use in music and otherwise, creating a diverse program of new music.

By - Oct 13th, 2021 11:44 am
David Bloom and Eric Segnitz, co-artistic directors of Present Music. Photo courtesy of Present Music.

David Bloom and Eric Segnitz, co-artistic directors of Present Music. Photo courtesy of Present Music.

Present Music offers its opening concert Thursday and Friday this week launching its 40th season. This first concert welcomes an audience for the first time since February 2020 to the Jan Serr Studio at the UW-Milwaukee Kenilworth Square East. The concert, Keeping Time, examines the subject from all perspectives, sparking a search for the myriad ways that contemporary composers have chosen to consider time. Co-artistic directors Eric Segnitz and David Bloom continue the Present Music tradition – letting an abstract theme weave together a diverse program of new music.

Conlon Nancarrow. Photo by Irene de Groot, CC BY 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons.

Conlon Nancarrow. Photo by Irene de Groot, (CC BY 3.0), via Wikimedia Commons.

Composer Conlon Nancarrow (1912-1997) looking at piano rolls, realized that just by punching holes in the paper, one could create a composition – even those that would be impossible to play. Thus, the player piano was the perfect tool for his exploration of extremely complex rhythmic patterns.

Present Music will open with an adaptation of one of Nancarrow’s “Studies for Player Piano, No. 21 (Canon X)” (1961). A slow bass line begins slowly increasing in speed while a treble line slows down progressively. The bass line finishes the work playing at 120 notes per second.

In 2021, Dominic Murcott arranged the work with a small orchestra accompanying the player piano. Two orchestral forces play the opposing lines conducted by spectral visions of Bloom simultaneously conducting each through overhead monitors.

The chaotic challenge of the Nancorrow work is countered by a slow and lovely piece by contemporary composer Daniel Kidane. His “Be Still” (2020, arr. 2021) has been adapted by the composer for this Present Music performance incorporating nine strings, flutes, piano, and percussion.

Kidane observes, “In a year where lockdowns became a thing, the idea of time became more apparent to me as everyday markers, such as meeting with friends and family, traveling or attending concerts vanished. As I look back at the year and attempt to fix in my mind events, they slither away from my grasp – like clouds passing by in the sky.”

Kidane will visit in March to introduce a work commissioned by Present Music.

Tansy Davies has written a work inspired by the Celtic calendar. Ancient calendars were all based on lunar cycles, and in the Celtic world, each month was divided into two fortnightly periods, known as Anagan and Antenoux.

Antenoux fluctuates between two kinds of energy: sultry and brooding cycles of highly rhythmical material in guitar, bass, and percussion, and more linear, ethereal phases and moments. In Celtic myth two materials coil and uncoil around each other, inspired by the imagined lines of an underground water phenomenon known as geospirals. The phenomenon comes in pairs, one curling left and one curling right, and relate to the bi-monthly phases of the moon.

So in this case, measures of time are recognized as the music addresses the patterns symbolically imagining these bi-monthly cycles. To expand the challenge, Present Music has asked choreographer Maria Gillespie, Chair of Dance at UW-Milwaukee, and four dancers to offer a visual representation to match the music. The choreography is inspired by patterns in nature – branching, spiraling, packing, meandering, and exploding.

Perhaps in another universe time is not linear at all, Segnitz suggests. Present Music has commissioned Krists Auznieks to write Untimed (2021). In this somewhat ethereal work, Auznieks seeks to “unmoor us from the shackles of temporal concerns” getting away from the linear aspect of music and taking us someplace else. The composer has flown from Latvia to attend the world premiere.

Several other works round out the concert. Starburst (2012) explodes in a short cheerful composition by Jessie Montgomery, Negative Space (2013) explores racial isolation in a song by New Zealander Leila Adu  (raised in New Zealand of Ghanaian descent), Caroline Mallonee explores unorthodox timbres with Keeping Time in a Bottle (2002), and Andrew Hamilton‘s music for people who like art (2009) offers a series of variations linked to the variety of inspirations in the visual arts.

Time turns more celebratory and chaotic in the closing piece by Sigur Rós, Gobbledigook (2008). Sigur Rós is an Icelandic post-rock band from Reykjavik. Lyrics are in the made-up language of Hopelandic. The dancers return to add energy to the piece.

Singers Donna Woodall and Ariadne Greif are featured in the Adu and Hamilton selections respectively.

Present Music choose during the height of the pandemic to continue concerts – creating a high-quality online presence. This season is equally ambitious. The organization will honor its 40th anniversary with world premiere commissions for each concert. And most of the events will also be recorded for at-home streaming shortly after the in-person concerts.

The Jan Serr Studio is a new exciting venue in Milwaukee located on the top floor of the Kenilworth Square East building. (2155 N. Prospect Ave.) Artists perform in front of a window wall overlooking the skyline of downtown Milwaukee.

The concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. Thursday evening, October 14, and be repeated at 7:30 p.m. Friday night. Tickets may be purchased online or at 414 229-4308.

All guests who purchase an in-person event ticket will also receive a complimentary link to Livestream the event via email, should they (after purchasing) feel more comfortable with the virtual option or have health concerns preventing them from attending.

Present Music has joined with most Milwaukee performing arts organizations to create a COVID-19 protocol for all concerts.

All audience members 12 and up wanting to attend concerts in person must bring a mask to wear during the event and provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination or proof of negative test result within 72-hours of performance. More information can be found here.

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