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Classical 101

New Music in Columbus, Tomorrow Night

Columbus's New Music ensembleC.O.D.E. will be presenting their inaugural concert this Wednesday at the Short North Stage, free of charge. Their program can really only be described as Relevant, Accessible, and Local. George Crumb's Vox Balaenae, is the program's "big fish." 

"Locally-sourced," may be a term used more often on restaurant menus than playbills, but after speaking with Artistic Director Michael Rene Torres and composer Charlie Wilmoth last week, I am convinced that local composers and local musicians should be at the forefront of concerts in Columbus.

The performing artists in C.O.D.E.- short for Columbus Ohio Discovery Ensemble- contribute to some of Central Ohio's best conservatories and prestigious ensembles. Works by two local composers, Charlie Wilmoth from Otterbein University and Dr. Thomas Wells from Ohio State, will also be featured on Wednesday's program.   

The Program:

  • Fanfare (2015) Premiere of Charlie Wilmoth's work for flute, clarinet, bassoon, and alto saxophone
  • Two Jazz Etudes (1985) by Meyer Kypferman, for solo clarinet
  • Crosswind (2013) written by Chin Ting Chan for flute and saxophone
  • Ehlecatl (2003) by Thomas Wells, for solo flute
  • Duet (2011) by Charles Halka, written for bassoon and cello
  • Vox Balaenae ("Voice of the Whale") written by George Crumb for flute, cello, and piano

This program caught my attention not only for its inclusion of the works of local composers, but also for the titular work by George Crumb, Vox Balaenae. Crumb's piece, translated "Voice of the Whale," was written in 1971 for the New York Camerata ensemble. Crumb is known for the unique visual presentations of his scores and as a major contributor to 20th Century composition. 

Perhaps the most intriguing part of the work  is the timeliness it represented for the 1970's.

In 1967, biologists Roger Payne and Scott McVay made the first recording of actual whale songs. Their work was the first to suggest that whales communicate through music. Whale-songs became famous and sparked one of the largest conservation efforts in history.

Crumb used these whale-song recordings as inspiration for Vox Balaenae, but it is important to note that he did not write the piece in an attempt to recreate or mimic their sounds. His work is more of a "soundscape" meant to evoke the esoteric and ephemeral qualities of the ocean. The piece has eight movements; five of which are named for pre-historic periods such as Paleozoic and Archeozoic. 

The musical score even has special instructions for its visual presentation:

"Each of the three players should wear a black half-mask (vizor-mask) throughout the performance of the work. The masks, by effacing a sense of human projection, will symbolize the powerful impersonal forces of nature (nature dehumanized). Vox Balaenae can be performed under a deep-blue stage lighting, if desired, in which case the theatrical effect would be further enhanced."

Accessible Music

Along with programs featuring local talent, accessibility may be the wave of the future for ensembles interested in expanding audiences to include younger listeners. By now, most of us have heard about the SoundBox concept from San Francisco. The similar initiative of New Music at Short North Stage and the Johnstone Fund for New Music strives to bring music to audiences in Columbus free of charge without "watering it down." 

One way in which New Music at Short North Stage is bringing audiences a little closer, is their inclusion of  a pre-concert Cocktail Hour at Ethel's Bar which is situated just steps from the Green Room at the Short North Stage. While sipping on a Sidecar, audience members can ask questions and get to know the funders, the performers, and even guest composers. Michael Rene Torres, both performer and artistic director of C.O.D.E., had high praise for this concepts of audience and performer community.

Finally, here are a few last comments from Michael Rene Torres and myself. I hope to see you tomorrow night at the Short North Stage for what is sure to be a landmark performance for Columbus.

For more information, and to RSVP to the event and invite friends, check out the Facebook page for this event here.