.Night of the Living Composers Samples Unexpected Arrangements

The New Music Works’ 23rd annual mystery tour through chamber music and song by not-yet-departed composers is about to lift off. And there’s a reason the composer anthology of short works took its name from George Romero’s groundbreaking 1968 zombie film.

“The name is a cue that what’s coming will flirt with whimsy and weird,” says New Music Works’ artistic director/composer Phil Collins. “Though composers headline, the extraordinary caliber of our performers and their dedication to giving their utmost is definitely high among the program’s primary allures.”

Collins says this annual exploratory showcase is always a kick for the performers. “There’s something titillating, even revelatory on occasion, about playing new stuff,” he admits. “It’s also just gratifying to assist fellow composers in getting their music out.”

Usually crunching deadlines, Collins had a longer lead time to assemble this year’s concert. “I enjoyed an extra few months to really sort out the possibilities and ultimately decide on a program that is a sure-fire wow,” he says.

That wow factor should be on full display thanks to mezzo Lori Rivera and pianist Sarah Cahill. Programming new chamber works means that the format of NLC is never formulaic, says Collins.

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“A great deal of thought and many listenings, readings, conversations go into selecting the repertoire,” he says. “Contrasts in a wide vista of parameters are considered. The magical chemistries of sound enact transformational changes of circumstance like no other media.”

He’s got that right. Nobody leaves the always-intriguing NLC without some fresh mind sparkle. Like consuming exotic foods or sipping a provocative cocktail, new music can take your senses for a ride often unavailable to the tried-and-true masters of the genre.

Another secret to the lasting appeal of this annual fiesta for music lovers and music geeks is that the pieces are all different and almost always short.

“I think the inherent NLC format guarantees conspicuous variety in relatively brief doses,” Collins contends. “With pieces lasting anywhere from 5 to 25 minutes, audiences know that if a piece doesn’t strike one as a personal pick, that it won’t take long before another work of completely different style, instrumentation, mood starts vibrating.”

In Saturday’s evening of the unexpected, you’ll find a salute to Harriet Tubman, I Like to Think of Harriet Tubman, by Christian Wolff, a street-wise adaptation of Susan Griffin’s poem, Harriet Tubman. Vivacious vocalist Lori Rivera will perform a rhythmic spoken part, accompanied by an instrumental trio of violin, piano and double bass.

There will be world premieres, including two from local composers. The new quintet by Santa Cruz’s Scott Stobbe, Circadian Melodies—a NMW commission—takes listeners through a richly imagined day of bio-rhythmic changes. And Collins’ piano solo Pleasant Dreaming will be performed in a newly revised version by Bay Area virtuosa Sarah Cahill.

The evening also features two Paul Simon song arrangements that have toured nationally. “Both are extraordinary cross-over collaborations,” says Collins. “The music of Bryce Dessner—the arranger of Simon’s “Can’t Run But”will also be featured on our April 4 concert. Dessner’s Murder Ballads—commissioned, recorded, and toured by Eighth Blackbird—showcases deft textural and melodic sensibilities. And despite the notoriety he has received for his music and the score for the newly-released film The Two Popes, Dessner’s name remains obscure.” No printed score was available for the NLC selections, so Collins and Michael McGushin cobbled one together themselves.

David Behrman is another new name in the Living Composers roster. His sound and multimedia installations, including collaborations with John Cage, David Tudor and countless others, have been experienced around the globe. Behrman’s Mills Open Space is scored for open instrumentation so the audience can feast on another stylish performance from the seasoned warriors of the NMW performance ensemble. Carleton Macy from Monterey provides another NMW premiere for bass clarinet, vibraphone, marimba and piano, Spiral, which promises to bring the evening to an electrifying climax.

A live sampler of unexpected words, sounds, and music, Night of the Living Composers is bound to haunt your imagination for a long time to come. Don’t miss it. 


Night of the Living Composers will be presented at 7:30pm on Saturday Feb. 8, at Samper Recital Hall, Cabrillo College. Tickets at Cabrillo College Box Office, 479-6154, and cabrillovapa.com/tickets.


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