Five Next Festival world premieres at Music Mountain – The Millbrook Independent
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Sometimes one can be transported or teleported to another planet while attending a concert; it was one of those magical Saturday nights at Music Mountain with the sun setting and a gentle cool breeze blowing from the rings of Saturn. Yes, it was time to travel through space through the colorful rings of Saturn with around twenty orchestra members crowding the stage at Gordon Hall with conductor Peter Askim.
The first stop was Jessica Meyer In the wavesinspired by Debussy The sea and Gauguin’s painting of a naked European woman diving into the ocean to escape the collective madness of French culture. Jessica felt that current American society had reached such a retro point that the only curative escape was to immerse themselves in the culture, which artists have been forced to do during the recent pandemic. The result was an increased lyricism eager to connect with transcendent reality. It was a satisfying ride on an unseen roller coaster on the edge of an ocean of harmonic melodies, dizzy with the discovery of a new mode of perception with bassist Andrew Ryan providing the backwash.
at Lilya Ugay sunsets sunflowers offered a meditation on the fate of Ukraine. Growing up in Uzbekistan (the original homeland of the Celts), she spoke Russian and was steeped in Russian music, but she began investigating Ukrainian culture to find that so many people she admired like pianist Horowitz were Ukrainian. , as did Gogol, Chekhov, Babel, and Bulgakov. Tchaikovsky wrote thirty of his plays in Ukraine. The first part of his work created a large-scale oscillation in the orchestra, as if the whole orchestra were an accordion playing among the sunflowers; the second half had a twilight choral effect as if the instruments were the evening air settling into the darkness and the orchestra were the varied insects singing farewell to the sun with an excellent rendition by cellist Rocco de Colossi.
Winter 1983 by Jeff Scott from Philadelphia delved into his past troubles when his family was falling apart. Presenting this work, he said it was one of the the Blues. It was sharp classical music with an atonal thrill. There was deep personal angst, despair, torment, fear, displacement and struggle to find the outlet of artistic creativity (what the blues is) amid deep emotional scars that were healed by the music. There was a refreshing angular cubism in this post-modernist gem. In this piece, I found the viola player Lukas Shrout exceptional. The work is so dense with varied emotions that it requires multiple listenings.
The raw heart of the spinning world by Peter Askim had two parts: the first part traced a lyrical landscape of tenderness, affection and contentment; the much longer second movement plunged into pandemic fear, displacement, disorientation and isolation. Scott and Askim both seem influenced by the dramatic. Stravinsky’s sharp violin lines. In both composers, this effect kept me wide-eyed at the edge of my seat. Askim provided a whirlwind of primitive impressionism that somehow got consistent with the classic elevation amid the inflection of rising protest with atonal riffs. Ava Pacheco on violin was at the peak of emotion.
Pamela Z provided the closest with Sequel to Carbon Song Cycle. Askim had heard this multimedia work as a four-player chamber music piece and asked him to make an orchestral version of it with Pamela Z. An eccentric style with roots in 1970s events, emo music, street protest, the satirical repetition of words and phrases like “I was breathing” and “this is a recipe”, the spontaneous crinkling of plastic bubble wrap made from oil, chanting, voodoo spells, random statics , chemical formulas, soprano operatic interludes, deep-voiced bass riffs, this work was about the crisis of climate change and the global political domination of the oil and gas industry. Rich in a disconcerting density, the public felt projected out of the solar system. On the violin, Sophia Steger was wonderful.
Remarkable above all was the disciplined unity of the orchestra under Askim’s direction. While there was a shocking side to most of this work, there was a message of healing that promised hope for a future solution. It was a gig that acclaimed a post-pandemic worldview.
It was the tenth year of the Next Festival for Emerging Artists, a venue that produced many exciting new compositions and helped season the careers of many young performers in their early twenties. Next is a national treasure, a tipping point for what happens around the next turning point in musical history.