“Electronic and Neo-Classical Music from Central and South America” Review- Fulcrum Point New Music Project at The Latino Music Festival

Composer Javier Álvarez and Stephen Burns, Artistic Director, Fulcrum Point New Music Project, with Chicago schoolchildren at Music Tech Jam
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 Fulcrum Point New Music Project, a Chicago leader in classical contemporary music, participated in The Latino Music Festival on October 18th, 2017 by putting on a concert of Latin-American music at Merit School of Music’s Gottlieb Hall, 38 S. Peoria, Chicago. The material performed explored “the relationship between traditional instruments and digital sonic manipulation” and was entitled “Electronic and Neo-Classical Music from Central and South America”.

In brief, the entrancing evening event presented an vivid and exotic landscape of electroacoustic music, inspired by the folklore of Peru, Latin jazz and abstract electronic music composed by some of the most important and distinctive Latin-American composers at work today. The selections were diverse and expansive, ranging from a modern lyrical piano/cello composition, ‘Rios Profundos”, by Gabriela Lena Frank, to the dramatic and supersonic “Corson” for trumpet and tape of Gustavo Leone. From the wonky electro-acoustic striations amid sultry amplified maracas of Javier Álvarez’ “Temazcal”, through the cerebral and hyper-technical explorations on a theme of Elbio Barilari’s “Saxon Variations”, to the otherworldly/luminous “Tolerance” by Rodrigo Sigal, the concert took listeners on a journey of wonder. Kudos to the musicians, virtuosos all!

Stephen Burns, Edward Harrison, Gustavo Leone and Javier Álvarez; The Merit School of Music

In anticipation of Fulcrum Point’s MacArthur International Connections Award residency at the 2018 Visiones Sonoras, the concert featured the above-mentioned very special works by composers Javier Álvarez and Rodrigo Sigal from the Mexican Center of Music and Sonic Arts (CMMAS) Álvarez spent the day before the concert, the beginning of 4-day residency with Fulcrum Point in Chicago, visiting Chicago students with Stephen Burns, Artistic Director, Fulcrum Point. Burns and Álvarez presented their electroacoustic music and worked with Latino students from The People’s Music School in the Albany Park and Back of the Yards neighborhoods. The artists engaged the Chicago Public School students in creating and editing digital field recordings to be designed, filtered, and sculpted for use during an upcoming “Music Tech Jam”. 

This reviewer had the opportunity to meet with Stephen Burns and Javier Álvarez before the concert, to discuss the program, the instant Fulcrum Point Residency, and the ongoing collaboration with Sigal, Fulcrum Point and Burns. Their comments about the pieces to be performed are paraphrased below with my impressions on the performances themselves:

The program consisted of “5 completely different sounds”.

“Corson”, by Gustavo Leone of Argentina; an intense and evocative piece featuring trumpet virtuoso and Fulcrum Point Artistic Director Stephen Burns performing with ambient electronics. The piece was written in 2014 for Burns. The 3 movement piece- the movements representing peace, ecstasy and a “cool groove”- scored for trumpet and electronic media incorporates the sonorities of brass instruments. This wonderful piece begins with sounds as of an airplane takeoff, turning old Hollywood-esque with a Mardi-Gras feel. In the second movement, the trumpet tells an otherworldly story, seguing into triumph in the planetary realm. Finally, in the third movement, images are evoked of a ship entering a new world- the whole piece a voyage of sonic-sound discovery.

“Rios Profundos”, an early work of Latin Grammy winner Gabriela Lena Frank, an American whose mother was of mixed Peruvian/Chinese ancestry, and whose father was of Lithuanian Jewish descent. It’s written for cello and piano, evoking Peruvian folk music in a neo-classical style. Played by Mark Brandfonbrenner, an exquisite cellist, and Susan Merdinger, a controlled but emotion-filled pianist, it’s a fantasy based on a novel, a classical song cycle for cello and piano. It’s romantic, expressionistic, building in sonority, at times discordant and stark, intellectual in feel, performed with the two musicians in fine accord.

Mark Brandfonbrener, cellist, performing “Rios Profundos”

“Tolerance”, by Rodrigo Sigal of Mexico can be described as a conversational duet between cello and electronics. Sigal is the director of the Centre for Music and the Sonic Arts (CMASS) in Morelia, Mexico and has entered a fruitful collaboration with Fulcrum Point to produce a world premiere by one of Mexico’s most well- known composers, Javier Álvarez. In this witty and engaging work, superbly executed by cellist Paula Kosower, her face a study in sympathetic concentration, it was sometimes difficult to discern what was cello and what emanated from the soundtrack, with which Kosower was miraculously in sync. The sounds in toto kept getting stronger, until at one point Kosower seemed to have to rescue the cello music from inside belly of the beast-like images!

Paula Kosower, cellist; photo courtesy of the artist

“Saxon Variations”, by Latino Music Festival Co-Director Elbio Barilari of Uruguay; a playful homage to Eric Satie, beautifully performed by Special Guest pianist Susan Merdinger. The work can be described as an experiment in timing, the harmonic language expressed in a series of treatments on a theme. Some of the variations were rhapsodic, some cunning, some deeply stirring- all were technically profound.


Susan Merdinger, pianist, performing “Saxon Variations”

“Temazcal”, by Javier Álvarez;  a tour-de-force showpiece for maracas and electronics featuring the stunning pyrotechnics of Edward Harrison, principal timpanist of the Lyric Opera Orchestra. In creating this renowned piece, Álvarez was inspired by a Venezuelan flautist to attempt “to play with the maracas”. Later, as an assistant to a German musicologist, while recording traditional harp music, birds rose into the air; he kept the taped sounds. To add “ a transition”, he “slowed down the original harp recording of a Mexican folk song and wrote over it”, and then  “traced the music over the slow motion template, only to reveal the harp at the surreal conclusion.” As performed by the poker-faced, deeply concentrating Ed Harrison, the electronic portions, joined and matched step-by-step with percussive authority, gave way finally to a glad explosion of Latin dance.

Edward Harrison, maracas, performing “Temazcal”

Further events in the Alvarez/Fulcrum Point residency last week included a Music Tech Jam on October 20th and 21st, in which students from Latina Girls Code collaborated with Álvarez, Mexico’s leading electroacoustic composer, using technology to complement an interactive music composition for a 2018 world premiere. This Music Tech Jam was intended to empower Latino students to develop an interactive music tool that will be integral to a 2018 world premiere composition by Álvarez. Participants will learn about Pure Data, a programming language for creating interactive computer music, as they explore a composer’s creative process and build upon an existing music app for audience interaction.

This collaborative event was made possible by a MacArthur International Connections Grant and is the first of a series of workshops created by Fulcrum Point and the Mexican Centre for Music and the Sonic Arts in Morelia Mexico, in partnership with The People’s Music School and Chicago’s Latino and tech communities, including Latina Girls Code.

Leading up to the 2018 final concert will be several exciting opportunities to engage in the process.  Thanks to Chicago-based composer and coder Joel Corelitz for his indispensable contributions to the Music Tech Jam through his ingenious interactive music tech app, Shortwave.

The public is invited to go attend a Music Hackathon hosted by The People’s Music School on Saturday, November 11th, at 1871. All developers are invited to attend this full-day event, where they will be challenged to develop sounds from various cherished items brought by the students of The People’s Music School. Developers will engage in an artistic technical initiative, while competing for various prizes. Output from this Music Hackathon will also be curated for Álvarez’s composition.

Composer Javier Álvarez; photo by Eduardo Cervantes

Presented by the International Latino Cultural Center (ILCC), The Chicago Latino Music Festival (CLMF) produces performances and promotes awareness of music from Latin America & Spain, ranging from the Colonial period to the 21st century. The Latino Music Festival functions as a bridge, bringing Latino classical music to audiences in Chicago.

At the same time, the CLMF fulfills an educational role by bringing this music to Chicago’s neighborhoods and surrounding suburbs through concerts and educational programs. In addition to a roster of internationally acclaimed artists participating annually in the Festival and its programs, the Latino Music Festival places a strong emphasis on local talent, featuring Chicago’s most prestigious orchestras, ensembles and soloists, as well as a number of talented young professionals.

The CLMF commissions the creation of new pieces of music from Latino composers and features world, US and/or Chicago premieres of works both new and historical. The Festival also has a residency program for chamber ensembles and soloists that focuses on the dissemination of the Ibero-American repertoire.

For information and tickets to the remaining concerts of the Chicago Latino Music Festival, go to www.latinomusicfest.org

For information and tickets to all the great programs of Fulcrum Point New Music Project, go to www.fulcrumpoint.org

Unless otherwise noted, all photos by Anna Munzesheimer


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