Contemporary composer's minimalist work to highlight New Music Agency concert

By Jeff Korbelik / Lincoln Journal Star
(Friday, Dec 24, 2004)

The New Music Agency, fresh off its successful "Free at Six" experience earlier this month, returns Thursday with another innovative concert.

 The avant-garde chamber group will perform three works, with Terry Riley's "In C" as the concert's highlight at the Lincoln Unitarian Church.

Third Chair Chamber Players performed Riley's mesmerizing minimalist work in November 2000.

The New Music Agency felt it was time to revisit the work. And, if things go well, the ensemble wouldn't mind performing it again and again at this time of year.

 "It's kind of my hidden agenda," New Music co-founder Karen Sandene said. "I would like to make it an annual thing, like the ‘Messiah' or ‘The Nutcracker.'"

Written in 1964, Riley's harmonic work consists of 53 melodic fragments in the key of C that any number of musicians perform roughly at the same time, yet individually.

Sandene compares it to running a 10K race, with all the participants averaging 7-minute miles.

Some musicians start out slow, playing certain measures over and over, while others race ahead until they find a comfortable pace.

The goal is for all the players to finish at the same time.

"It's a wonderful experience for the performers and the audience," Sandene said. "It's a very bonding piece of music."

The New Music Agency is in its second season of performing contemporary music inside and outside Lincoln.

 The ensemble is made up of university professors, Lincoln Public Schools music staff and musicians of the Omaha and Lincoln symphonies.

Some of them have performed in contemporary music ensembles elsewhere in the country. Two are active composers in the genre.

Personnel for Thursday's concert will be Christy Banks (clarinet), Rusty Banks (guitar), Betsy Bobenhouse (flute), Diana Frazier (cello), Joe Holmquist (percussion) and Sandene (bassoon).

The group earned a vote of confidence when it was one of six local groups selected to perform at "Free at Six," the new concert series organized by the Lied Center for Performing Arts.

The Lied created the series to  recognize and celebrate the rich range of artistic talent in the community. The New Music Agency played before its largest audience — nearly 200 patrons —  in the Lied's Johnny Carson Theater.

In addition to the Riley piece, the chamber group will perform Mexican composer Mario Lavista's "Responsorio in memoriam Rodolfo Halffter for Bassoon and Percussion" and "Bent Echos," an original work by Agency member Rusty Banks.

Lavista created his work as a eulogy for his composition instructor. The bassoonist (Sandene) plays a mournful melody — reminiscent of the opening of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" — while heavy drum beats depict a funeral procession in a Mexican village, and chimes represent the tolling of church bells.

"It's a very beautiful piece of music," Sandene said.

"Bent Echoes" features flute, clarinet, guitar, sound file (stored sounds) and three boomboxes strategically placed in the room. Banks uses "synthesized sound" to enhance the piece.

"I deliberately used synth sounds found in many bad pop songs from the 1980s," he said. "The way I use them, however, is very different."