Contemporary 'Cycles' At WPU's Shea Auditorium February 4th
Peter Jarvis, composer-percussionist and WPU New Music Series Director, and Thomas Carlo Bo, conductor-composer-pianist, discuss the program and their associations with Composers Concordance.
Why do you spend so much energy developing relationships with composers?
Peter Jarvis: I think that composers and performers need each other. Composers are best off when they have musicians interested in performing their music, and performers are best off when they have new music to perform. The standard and established repertoire is vital to a successful series in my opinion, but at the same time, by definition a new music series needs new music in order to exist. I think it's wise for young musicians to develop collaborative relationships with composers of as many generations as possible, certainly those of their own generation. I try to provide both performers and composers with that opportunity.
What is your focus at WPU in terms of student development?
Peter Jarvis: I think students should perform on their instrument, conduct (after a couple of years of playing experience), they should learn to improvise (over time), compose and commission works by their colleagues. All of that certainly creates a full agenda for any student, and I think a balance of the disciplines should be shaped accordingly for different students. For example, performance, education, management and sound engineering majors, etc. all have different concerns, yet at the same time I think some work in each of the disciplines I mentioned would be helpful to any music student.
You're a relative newcomer to Composers Concordance. How did you come to be a part of this group?
Thomas Carlo Bo: I met Gene Pritsker (one of the directors) some years back when I conducted his opera “Cheaters”. I liked the score, we got on well during production, and discovered that we had the same teacher, Giampaolo Bracali. This led to me collaborating with Gene to put together a memorial tribute when Giampaolo died. I subsequently met the other terrific folks at CompCord, and have occasionally participated in their concerts as a conductor, pianist, or composer. My relationship was made more formal recently when I conducted the premiere of the Composers Concordance Chamber Orchestra as part of the Evolution Festival in December. I have always had an eclectic taste in music and find myself very much at home with these musicians. Everybody writes, everybody performs, there's no stylistic dogma, and there is a real sense of camaraderie. It’s a healthy place for a musician to be.
Please tell us about your new song cycle 'Prophecy from a Refrigerator Box'.
Thomas Carlo Bo: I've known the poet, Jake Schneider, since he was a boy. I admire his writing and have always had it in the back of my mind to set something of his. His poetry displays a tremendous gift for image and the unexpected word. 'Prophecy from a Refrigerator Box' is written from a point of view of a homeless person. It's not a narrative poem in any traditional sense but rather a monologue which reacts to the stimulus of the street with skittish, nervous energy and poetic insight. The sudden, pungent images and changes of topic draw you right into the character, and the poem seems to me deeply influenced by the beat poets. The trick is to write music which catches this and expands the emotion without abandoning structure. The result is not exactly Kerouac meets Cohn meets Zoot Sims, but it wants to breathe the same air. I think it can best be described as a hybrid. It’s a traditional song cycle in the sense in that the vocal line and its rhythmic structure remain constant, but the musical language is basically that of Jazz. There are elements of improvisation, and the accompaniment is the jazz ensemble sine qua non: piano, bass, and drums. With three great players, this trio can be as interactive as in classical chamber music and the coloristic possibilities are enormous (discovering the early recordings of the Bill Evans Trio was a revelation.) The baritone voice seemed both a natural for the character of the poem and right for this idiom. I've wanted to experiment with this form for a while and I’m glad that this concert with Composers Concordance has given me the chance.
Is it a challenge to present so many concerts each season?
Peter Jarvis: Yes, it is a challenge partially because I expect professional results from students. I concern myself with balanced programming in terms of stylistic variety, incorporating performances by students, alumni, faculty and outside professionals, involving as many living composers as possible and presenting numerous premieres balanced with well-established literature. My primary concern remains the education of the students, but at the same time I feel a responsibility to the development and presentation of music on a more global level.
Why have you invited the CC to perform several years running?
Peter Jarvis: I have been fortunate to have been performing with Composers Concordance since the 1980s. So, the annual concert by CompCord, which I see continuing for many years, is an outgrowth and development of a relationship that is some 25 years established. I have always enjoyed and found our collaborations to be mutually beneficial; I have enjoyed the stage they have provided and feel I have well-represented their composer-members. Over the past few years, Composers Concordance has been moving in new directions. I personally think this development is wonderful and opens new doors for CompCord and presenters. As director of the series at WPU I see an opportunity: I see Composers Concordance as an organization that's critical to the music scene, and feel that my series offers them an expanded audience, and offers the students at WPU opportunities to hear music by cutting-edge composers from New York and New Jersey.