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NOI New Lights

Classical music, as we all know, is dying. Greg Sandow, the self-appointed Dark Horseman of this particular tribulation, stands regularly on the virtual street corner, proclaiming that the terminal patient is finished unless we encourage applause between movements, unless we program more contemporary music, unless classical institutions undo everything they have done until now and embrace popular culture, unless -- whatever. While hammering home the details of this devastating illness, he also offers a miracle cure -- workshops for musicians to brand themselves, consultation services to help ensembles bring that elusive young audience into the hall.

This is not to say that classical music does not need to change and evolve, or that Greg Sandow's ideas are not worth musicians pursuing -- only that one tires of the apocalypse. After all, at least since Monteverdi, musicians or critics have been declaring that the true art is dead. What strikes me when attending a performance that supposedly represents the salvation of classical music is that audiences do exactly what they do in the concert hall under normal circumstances: they listen in silence. That is what we are supposed to do with this music we love so much, give it all of our attention. The New Lights concert, offered every year (2011, 2010, 2009) by the participants in the National Orchestral Institute at the University of Maryland, provides the chance for performers to "explore unconventional performance practice, technology and other artistic disciplines." The latest installment, heard on Thursday night at the Clarice Smith Center, experimented with only the first one from that list, but it was another chance to appreciate some of the ways that musicians can be innovative. It is always good to experience something new, but if all concerts followed this kind of format, I would probably stop going to them.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, National Orchestral Institute at Strathmore (The Washington Post, June 30)

Andrew Lindemann Malone, 45-Minute Workout: National Orchestral Institute and Festival’s “New Lights” Chamber Concert (DMV Classical, July 1)
The principal benefit was compactness, with a program that lasted 45 minutes without an intermission. A single movement of Bach's second Brandenburg concerto -- with the odd substitution of marimba for trumpet -- opened the concert, ending with a sort of audio rewind effect as the final chord glissandoed upward. The Bach's corresponding book end was Paul Moravec's Brandenburg Gate, composed in 2008 for (almost) the same forces as Bach's second Brandenburg concerto (including the trumpet left out of the Bach), as part of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra's Brandenburg project. Moravec's piece, the most substantial work on the program, gave tribute to Bach -- in its use of repetition, rhythmic drive, and an almost-obsessive quotation of the B-A-C-H motif. In both pieces, the young musicians played with élan and athleticism, even without a conductor -- something that they coached with members of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra to learn how to do. In the middle was a screeching, unpleasant performance of the second movement of John Cage's String Quartet in Four Parts, played from an upper balcony, and a ruminative (in the cud-chewing sense) Spiegel im Spiegel by Arvo Pärt, with an antiphonal alternation of instruments on the stage and others in the upper balconies. Two improvisational exercises were included -- one involving clapping that opened the performance, and another involving voices singing in a cluster (a common vocal warm-up used by actors) that connected the Pärt to the Moravec.

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