Charles Wetherbee plays an electronic 5-string violin at the Diary
By Peter Alexander Dec. 2 at 2 p.m.
Looking for a musical adventure? The Dairy Arts Center has one on tap Monday (7:30 p.m. Dec. 3).
Charles Wetherbee, violin professor at the CU College of Music and concertmaster of the Boulder Philharmonic, will perform one Colorado and three world premieres for a program titled “Musica Prima” (First music). Each work calls for solo violin, although they are not strictly speaking unaccompanied, since they all incorporate electronics, including real-time feedback loops, computer-generated sounds and visual media.
But that is only part of the adventure. Wetherbee is playing on what is a new instrument for him: an amplified five-string violin. And If you’ve never seen a five-string violin, you are not alone.
“It’s a little experimental,” Wetherbee says, but for him that’s a good thing. “The advance of technology is something that’s exciting, and that expands the musical landscape for us.”
And no, you can’t just buy one at your local music store (although they can be found online). “I was contacted by a representative of a company that wanted me to demo their instrument,” Wetherbee explains. “It coincided with my embarking on (the program of premieres), so it was good timing.”
The instrument he will play is an acoustic violin with an amplification hookup built in. The addition of the fifth string, tuned to C below the G string, allows the instrument to play music down into the range of the viola, but it has its challenges.
“It is a little tricky,” Wetherbee says. “On a (four-string) violin or viola, you instinctively know which string you’re going to, with your bow and fingers. But when there’s five it can be a little confusing, and it takes a little extra care and attention.”
The oldest work on the program is Isola Prima (First Island) for 8-channel tape and solo viola, part of a suite of three pieces by Italian composer Nicola Sani. Composed in 1998 and recorded in 2009, it has never been performed live in the United States.
“It’s a really interesting and atmospheric work,” Wetherbee says. “It’s an exploration of the sound of the instrument, (with) recorded sounds of the string instrument combined with the live participation of the performer.”
Two of the world premiere pieces are by Colorado natives, Monica Bolles and Zachary Patten. Bolles’s Architect uses video and audio of the audience, recorded as they arrive, which is fed through a computer that responds to the performer’s improvisations.
“Her work is very interesting,” Wetherbee says. “As I play louder or softer, faster or slower, (the computer) responds. It doesn’t do the same thing every time—it’s like AI (Artificial Intelligence). It has the capacity to perform differently every time I play, and then I respond depending on what I’m hearing the computer do.”
Patten’s piece, titled Pando, is partly improvised and incorporates visual images and sounds recorded inside one of the largest living organisms on earth, an aspen grove in Utah. Known as Pando, the grove of 47,000 trees emerges from a single root system, covers 107 acres, and is estimated to weigh more than 6,000 tons. Patten spent time inside Pando, where he captured both visual and audio elements used in his piece.
The fourth piece and third world premiere is Songs of the Wanderers by Chinese composer Fuhong Shi. Like the others, it combines both visuals and a auditory track with live performance. It was inspired by Dunhuang, a way station in far western China that was a part of the legendary Silk Road.
The composer has written “The happiness, fury, sorrow, and joy of the world are all vividly presented in the unrivaled colored frescos and sculptures in the grottos of Dunhuang. Time corrodes the tangible materiality of the world, but human emotions and spirit endure.”
“It’s a pretty big adventure, and I’m excited to be doing this,” Wetherbee says of the program. “I hope people are curious and want to come out and hear it.
“It’s really going to be some beautiful, beautiful music, some explorations—and really fun.”
# # # # #
Charles Wetherbee, five-string amplified violin
Architect by Monica Bolles (world premiere)
Songs of the Wanderers by Fuhong Shi (world premiere)
Pando by Zachary Patten (world premiere)
Isola Prima by Nicola Sani (Colorado premiere)
7:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 3
Carsen Theater, Dairy Arts Center