Jacob Greenberg

Thursday, October 23, 2008

drumroll, please...

I'm thrilled to announce (along with others) that flutist Claire Chase, the executive director of ICE and one of my longtime collaborators, just won first prize at this year's Concert Artist Guild competition. I played with Claire in the semifinal round of the competition and again, last night, for the winners' concert at the Kosciusko Foundation. I couldn't be happier for Claire, and I hope this means that there are many concerts in our future together. Bravissimo.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

dreamy flashback

The scene is southwestern rural England, August 2000, and I'm a student at the Dartington International Summer Courses. I'm studying with the pianist Joanna MacGregor during the festival, working on pieces by Bach and Harrison Birtwistle (whom I also work with that summer). It's a cool late summer night, one of the last nights of the festival, and there is a performance in a large shed in the middle of a field. No lights whatsoever, and one has to find one's way there literally by moonlight.

The show is the "final project" of one of the courses, a course in improvisation and collective composition. There's just one piece played, an hour-long set without a break, and the effect it has on me is hard to describe. I sit down with my friends on a crate-like seat on one side of the shed, and as a member of the audience I take in what this group has created, a long dreamlike collage piece in fits and starts. It's polystylistic: a section of rich classical string playing followed by a jazz section with fast drumming, then a hip-hop rap, and then a section I don't understand but get completely lost in. It is something like a slow, somewhat distracted university marching band anthem, complete with tooting low brass. A vocal group chimes in with Swingle Singers-like doo-wop asides. The piece is in 7/4 time and goes on a continuous loop through the same harmonies. I lose track of how long it goes on, but I gradually feel warm, enveloped by the sound and by the smiles of the performers.

Somehow, I believe this night was a turning point in my understanding of new music and its performance; the memory comes back to me often, and I thought of it again two weeks ago when I was up at EMPAC with ICE, doing a program, played continuously, of music from five centuries. Every kind of music informs every other, and one listens--really, to any kind of concert--simultaneously with old and new ears, ears of experience and ears which are only in the moment. In the blissful mix of styles that I heard that night at Dartington, I was inside and outside of myself all at once, and clearly, it was unforgettable.