Music : MV Chamber Music Society hosts a world premier
The Martha's Vineyard Chamber Music Society, the Island's go-to for classical and contemporary performances and unique entertainment, is in the midst of its 38th annual summer music festival, and the offerings have never been better. On the evening of August 11, the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown will be the site of the world premiere of the latest work of the renowned electronic composer Morton Subotnick. The locally commissioned piece entitled "Then and Now and Forever," will be performed by selected members of New York's Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in the Martha's Vineyard Chamber Music Society's final concert of the season.
Following the premiere, the ensemble will perform Igor Stravinsky's famous 1918 Faustian folk tale, "L'Histoire du Soldat," a composition consisting of eleven movements and five episodes, featuring clarinet, bassoon, bass, violin, trombone, trumpet, and percussion. Bryan Torfeh of the Royal Shakespeare Company of London will narrate the piece. The concert will be repeated on August 12 at the Chilmark Community Center.
Mr. Subotnick, born in California and based in New York City, is known worldwide for his electronic compositions and innovative combinations of instruments and musical styles. The composer rose to fame in 1967 with a piece he wrote using the Buchla modular synthesizer called "Silver Apples of the Moon," a colorful piece with rich gesture and movement that became an American bestseller in the classical music category. He is also known for his frequent collaborations with his wife, Joan La Barbara, renowned American contemporary vocalist and composer.
When Mr. Subotnick was approached by Delores Stevens, the artistic director of the Martha's Vineyard Chamber Music Society, to write a piece for this year's festival, the composer saw the proposal as the perfect opportunity to continue with his current project, developing it into a series. "I did a series in the late 70s and I stopped doing them in about 1985. They were pieces that I originally thought could be played alone, but then I added electronic modification to them over the years and that's the only way they've been done," says the composer.
Photo by CK Wolfson
Mr. Subotnick spent years establishing a reputation centered around his prowess as a master and pioneer in the world of electronic music, creating music using interactive computer music systems and various forms of media. Now he wants to diverge slightly, continuing to experiment without limiting himself to electronic compositions. "Then and Now and Forever," unlike many of his previous works, will be performed instrumentally, without the addition of electronics. The trio will feature clarinet, piano, and violin.
"In a later incarnation I'll probably add the electronics," explains Mr. Subotnick, "but I don't want people to think that they're getting only part of it. These pieces were always intended to be done with or without electronics. I'd like there to be alternation between the two. It's a whole different experience without electronics. It's very pure and you can really concentrate on the music."
Ms. Stevens, the pianist for Mr. Subotnick's trio, cites the piece as having an "acoustic life and an electronic life." She says, "The piece is very atmospheric, very quiet - a unique sound."
Courtesy of Martha's Vineyard Chamber Music Society
In choosing to let his pieces function as completed works that could potentially be changed in the future, Mr. Subotnick allows the music to take its own course and continue to grow. This way, he can compose an instrumental piece knowing that he has the freedom to return to it later and decide whether or not to add an electronic element. Mr. Subotnick explains, "These pieces evolved over a long period of time. I'm hoping I'll end up four or five years down the line, with three or four more of these pieces - eventually they'll be a whole evening of them."
He describes his work, both electronic and instrumental, as not relying on thematic material, having instead, "textures that weave in and out -never quite the same. They're different qualities of moments that expand and contract and reoccur. It's a state of being."
"Then and Now and Forever," and "L'Histoire du Soldat," performed by members of the New York Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Monday, August 11, at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown, and Tuesday, August 12, at the Chilmark Community Center at 8 pm. $30; students are free. Purchase at the door, online at marthasvineyardtickets.com, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling 508-696-8055.
Kylie Paul, a recent graduate of Skidmore College, is a summer resident of Vineyard Haven.