Wednesday’s Soundscape concert poses questions and offers answers
By Peter Alexander
“Who is Missy Mazzoli?”
That’s the question being asked—and at least partly answered—by the Dairy Center for the Arts and music curator James Bailey on their Soundscape program at 2 p.m. Wednesday (Feb. 10).
The short answer is that Mazzoli is an adventurous composer from New York who writes in diverse genres, from opera to chamber music. She is in Boulder for a week for a Music Alive Composer Residency with the Boulder Philharmonic. The premiere of a new orchestral version of her Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres) by the orchestra and conductor Michael Butterman Friday evening (7:30 p.m. Feb. 12, Macky Auditorium) is only one part of her week-long residency. (More information in Boulder Weekly; tickets for the Boulder Phil concert here.)
But it’s a deeper answer that Bailey is after—one that showcases many facets of a complex and label-defying artist. To give that fuller picture, Mazzoli and Bailey have put together a program that seems to live up to the New York Times’s description of her as “among the more consistently inventive and surprising composers now working in New York.” There will be pieces for solo violin, for viola with electronics, for string quartet, and two pieces for piano and electronics performed by Mazzoli herself. (Click here for tickets.)
It is the pieces themselves that justify the adjective “inventive.” What is most surprising, however, is the fact that Mazzoli’s works will be presented in alternation with—of all things—the movements of Bach’s monumental Partita in D minor for solo violin, performed by Boulder Phil concertmaster and CU faculty member Charles Wetherbee.
“The motivation to include the Bach was because I have a solo violin piece called ‘Dissolve, O My Heart,’” Mazzoli explains. “It was a commission from the violinist Jennifer Koh, who did a project called ‘Bach and Beyond.’ She commissioned pieces based on existing works by Bach, and my piece (is based on) the famous solo violin Chaconne from the D-minor Partita.
“When (the Dairy Center) came to me for a program, I said why don’t we play the whole Partita and we could intersperse (my pieces). My other music doesn’t come directly out of that, but it has inspiration from Baroque material and ornamentation. There’s a lot of string pieces on this program, a string quartet, solo viola piece, electronic solo violin piece, and I’m also playing two piano pieces some with electronics.”
The complete list of Mazzoli’s pieces on the program will be: Tooth and Nail for viola and electronics, performed by Wetherbee; Orizzonte for piano and electronics, performed by Mazzoli; A Thousand Tongues for piano and electronics, performed by Mazzoli; Dissolve, O My Heart for solo violin—the piece based on the Bach Chaconne—performed by Wetherbee; and Quartet for Queen Mab performed by the Altius String Quartet, the award-winning Fellowship String Quartet in Residence at CU, Boulder.
Reading about Mazzoli, one quickly becomes aware of how eclectic her work is. She has had commissions from individual artists, including Koh; from orchestras around the country; from the Kronos Quartet; and from the Grammy-nominated adventurous vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth. Her works sometimes include electronics, sometime not, and she also performs with Victoire, an all-female band described by critic Alan Kozinn as “an art-rock band, a live electronic music group, or both.”
She and Victoire collaborated with Wilco percussionist Glenn Kotche and experimental keyboardist Lorna Dune for her recently recorded Vespers for a New Dark Age. National Public Radio’s “First Listen” asked, “Is Victoire’s music post-rock, post-minimalist or pseudo-post-pre-modernist indie-chamber-electronica? It doesn’t particularly matter. It’s just good music.”
Clearly, Mazzoli is an enthusiastic participant in many of the musical trends of our times. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Mark Swed said that her “musical influences are John Adams, the Minimalists and the moody vocal sonorities of early sacred music, with a hint of rock.”
Mazzoli does not deny these varied sources. “Studying classical music you would be surrounded by all of that, so yeah, I claim all of them proudly,” she says. “It’s become kind of a cliché to say, oh I have so many diverse interests, I’m interested in pop music as well as classical music, but I think it’s kind of a natural state growing up in the ‘80s.
“I wouldn’t even call it a trend. It’s as if the whole palette of sound is available for composers now from throughout history. It’s not as much a self-conscious choice as just sort of pulling from everything you’ve encountered in your life.”
But Mazzoli doesn’t want listeners to get hung up on labels or influences. “I want people to just hear music for what it is,” she says, “and to maybe be intrigued by one of those phrases, because it can sound like any one of those things.
“There’s bits and pieces of all of that in there.”
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The Feb. 10 Soundscape concert is only one of many events exploring the world of contemporary musical performance to be presented by the Dairy Center this spring. The full schedule is listed below; visit the Dairy Center Webpage for updates.
SOUNDSCAPE MATINEE SERIES
2 p.m. Wednesday, March 9: The Austin Piazzolla Quintet and the Boulder Chamber Chorale
After a sold out concert last season, the tango band from Texas returns to perform with the Boulder Chorale Chamber Singers.
2 p.m. Wednesday, April 13: Classical Music Unbuttoned
One of Boulder’s most innovative groups, Throw Down or Shut Up is a faculty quartet from the University of Colorado, Boulder. They will share the concert with Trio Cordillera another CU faculty trio, performing Argentine and Spanish music.
2 p.m. Wednesday, May 25: The Altius Quartet: The Passion of the String Quartet
Winners of the silver medal at the 2014 Bischoff Chamber Music Competition, the Altius Quartet was selected to perform at the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition. At the Dairy they will perform selected movements from quartets by Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Stravinsky, Bolcom—and Led Zepplin!
2 p.m. Wednesday, June 8: Youth be Served
A concert of music featuring some of Colorado’s most talented high school performers and ensembles.
ONE NIGHT ONLY SERIES
7:30 p.m. Monday, February 22: Voxare Meets the Man with the Movie Camera
The Voxare String Quartet from New York City the soundtrack to Russian filmmaker Dziga Vertov’s remarkable 1929 silent masterpiece The Man with the Movie Camera.
7:30 p.m. Friday, March 4: Wendy Woo—A 25 Year Retrospective
An evening with the guitarist and singer/songwriter Wendy Woo, together with musical artists from her 25 years on the Colorado music scene. The concert will be preceded by a First Friday reception in the new Dairy lobby.
7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 30: Conversations
For Boulder Arts Week, the Dairy will present an evening of duets, including Irish, Indian and Turkish duos. Two performances will also feature Boulder’s Frequent Flyers aerial ballet group.
4 p.m. Sunday, June 26th: The Miami String Quartet
The internationally renowned string quartet returns to the Dairy with a new program.
JAZZ AT THE DAIRY SERIES
7:30 p.m. Saturday, February 27: Jazz and Vonnegut
A concert with the David Fulker Quartet and jazz singer Robert Johnson in a program of jazz standards thematically wrapped around an unusual short story by Kurt Vonnegut.
7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 4: The Brad Goode Quartet with Sheila Jordan
Brad Goode, Boulder’s jazz trumpet virtuoso, will appear with his traveling quartet and jazz vocalist Sheila Jordan.
4 p.m. Sunday, April 17: Never to Be Forgotten
This Dairy collaboration with the Boulder Jewish Community Center and the University of Colorado School of Religious Studies will focus on chamber music by composers who were lost in the Holocaust.
(Edited to correct typos 2/8/16)