From Our Artists with Aaron Merritt
Nu Deco Ensemble’s audiences will likely agree they have experienced something different from the usual concert experience. The music we present crosses traditional barriers in terms of style, genre, and instrumentation. Listeners can hear music that was revolutionary in the 1920s paired with music written for computerized sounds, a DJ, or even solo steel drums.
While sharing these experiments and innovations for our listeners in concert, it may not be apparent to the audience that members of Nu Deco also experience much joy through learning when we get to discover, shape, and work out the nuances of music with composers who are in residence with us.
Such was the case at Nu Deco’s first concerts of season two in October at the Light Box. We had the opportunity to work closely with Adam Schoenberg and William Brittelle. Their two works proved equally refreshing and innovative, while retaining elements of “traditional” classical concert music. They also brought out different challenges to the performers.
The music of Adam Schoenberg has been familiar to many of us and is being played by many of the country’s most renown ensembles. When we kicked off with the Nu Deco debut concert in April of 2015 we played Schoenberg's “American Symphony”. In addition to being a close friend of Sam and Jacomo, several members of NDE have crossed musical paths with Adam and are familiar with his buoyant musical idiom.
We got to know Adam’s energetic, curtain-raiser “Go” intricately. Initially written as a work for string quartet, Adam expanded “Go” for our orchestra. The work starts out propulsively (as one would expect a work with this title should), with solo strings sliding up their fingerboard imitating the sound of an engine revving up and changing gear while accelerating. The bulk of the piece fits into a groove (albeit a very challenging groove) with a tuneful, radiant melody layered on top which is passed around the ensemble. “Go” presented many challenges to the ensemble with its unique rhythms and innovative patterns. Jacomo was a skillful traffic director, and Adam was in rehearsal to facilitate and offer advice to the players on how we could internalize his rhythms and play with more cohesion. As it was the first time an ensemble of our size had played the piece, Adam was there to re-orchestrate or put final edits before premiering his latest version.
Closing out the first half of our program was William Britelle’s “Future Shock”, a substantial piece of 15 minutes in three parts which was originally for string quartet (like Adam’s piece) but includes sampled electronic sounds and synthesizer. As Adam had done, William expanded his work for NDE’s string section of 12 players. Unlike Adam’s music, I don’t think any of us were yet familiar with his musical language.
We learned in rehearsal that “Future Shock” is loosely based on the book of the same name by futurist Alvin Toffler. The book’s premise is based on the psychological state of future shock, which Toffler identified as the feeling of people or societies who experience “too much change in a too short period of time,” resulting in a “shattering sense of disorientation.”
From the very beginning of William’s work, there is a certain sense of mechanical energy and plasticity which you can feel from the computerized sounds and hocket-style rhythms played by the strings. As the piece develops, it becomes more and more futuristic and mechanized, until a unanimous rhythmic gesture abruptly closes the work, as if illustrating that technological advancements have completely overtaken humanity (hopefully, if you are reading this on a smartphone you are watching where you are going!).
I really enjoyed performing a piece with an arching, philosophical concept in Nu Deco (come to think of it, this might have been our first of this type). While not telling a specific story, I think “Future Shock” very successfully illustrates a broad idea to which we can all relate, and this is quite evident in the work. Even though William’s musical idiom is modern, the piece’s function reminds me of some tone poems and masterpieces from the classical concert repertoire which similarly question society’s or humankind’s relationship to nature, discovery, or world events (Maurice Ravel’s “La Valse” and Richard Strauss’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra” immediately come to mind).
“Future Shock” requires significant preparation and focus due to the complexity of the rhythm and the way different parts fit together. Having William share his ideas about how to place rhythms in a more deliberate and less humanized way were key in our success. All of us involved in the performance of the work felt quite nourished by this holistic experience, and many of us said we would love to perform this piece again.
Every concert at Nu Deco Ensemble brings something new and unexpected, and with it an artist and/or a composer who opens our minds to something challenging and exciting. I look forward to the next time we can share this with you!