By GARY FERRINGTON
A few years ago, Eugene composer Andrew Stiefel was talking to a talented fellow composer, who lamented that she hadn’t started studying composition earlier. While growing up, she played a lot of classical music, but never thought about writing music herself. It wasn’t until two years into her undergraduate degree that she started experimenting with composition.
“What stuck with me from her story,” Stiefel remembered, “was the reason why she thinks she didn’t start writing music earlier: none of the composers looked like her. I believe if we don’t reach out to children and introduce them to music by a variety of living composers and give them opportunities to experiment with creating their own music, we’ll miss out on whole generations of unique voices.”
Reaching out to younger generations of listeners and connecting them with today’s voices is a big reason why Stiefel helped found Eugene-based Sound of Late, a new collaborative organization that describes itself as part modern music collective and part classical chamber music ensemble.
Sound of Late’s ensemble debuts its “Points of Departure” performance series at 8pm Friday, April 24 at the Broadway Avenue House Concerts venue in Eugene. In a concert that the group’s press release says will “explore the nature of sound and memory, their intimate connection to location, self-discovery and personal journey,” the quintet will play 20th- and 21st-century music by Ada Gentile, Nayla Mehdi, Benjamin Penwell, leading Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, Italian composer Salvatore Sciarrino, popular American composer/violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain (sometimes known as DBR), and a set of improvisations inspired by the great 20th century American composer Pauline Oliveros.
This debut series features musicians who have frequently performed together, including Stiefel (viola), Rebecca Olason (horn) Milo Fultz (double bass), Sarah Pyle (flute), and Bryce C. Caster (violin). As a collaborative ensemble, Sound of Late is “developing a flexible roster of leading instrumentalists who can perform as a trio one evening and as a small orchestra the next in order to meet the demands of a diverse repertoire.”
Sound of Late represents an emerging community of musicians and artists from across the Pacific Northwest that draws on the “collaborative nature of chamber music to develop thought-provoking concerts and creative educational programs that build, challenge, and ignite” communities throughout the region. Its ambitious mission, as enunciated on its web site, also includes interdisciplinary collaboration, new musical techniques, alternative concert spaces, self-management, transcending genre and stylistic boundaries, and “fostering new partnerships between composers, audiences, and our community.” ArtsWatch explored the development of this new ensemble in an email exchange with Stiefel, a founding member of Sound of Late.
AW: Please tell me how this new organization hopes to create a collaborative environment that will open up new partnerships and opportunities for composers, musicians, and the listening community.
Stiefel: “We have several projects started that intend to help coordinate and raise the visibility of the people and work already happening (Live Music Calendar) and to help connect people across the region (Switchboard). Performing in different cities isn’t anything new, but region-wide collaboration and coordination isn’t happening in an intentional fashion, yet. The PNW has a much lower density and is more spread out than traditional music/arts magnets (New York, Chicago, San Francisco, etc), but by combining the major centers together (Portland, Seattle, Vancouver B.C.) and the smaller communities (Eugene, Salem, etc.), we can create an “artificial” density to spark more collaboration and extend the reach of our work. The first steps are raising visibility and coordinating the work (calendar, social media, writing, etc.) and collaboration (Switchboard).
AW: The ensemble will include an educational component. What can you tell me about its goals?
Stiefel: We’ll be launching our educational programs in the fall along with our first full season. Milo Fultz will be working this summer with the Fifth House Ensemble to develop some of the first components of our program.
AW: The April debut concert features an interesting mix of music including works by Penwell, and Mehdi, and improvisations inspired by Pauline Oliveros. These composers have limited recognition by general audiences. What challenges do you anticipate in terms of informing and building interest in relatively unknown work?
Stiefel: We (audiences) tend to prefer music we’ve heard; it’s just human nature. We (Sound of Late) believe it is important to reduce the risk audiences face when encountering new music, which is why every concert on our tour is free, although donations will be accepted to help offset our costs. We’ll also be sharing interviews with the composers on the program over the next few weeks and posts (blog and newsletter) from the members of the ensemble about how they listen to new music, times they’ve ended up loving music they hated the first time they heard it, and posts about their favorite sounds.
We’re also recording each event, and the audience at each concert will be able to listen to the pieces again afterwards, if they want. We’re curious to see how many people will take advantage of this, and whether it helps them learn more about the pieces.
As we continue to organize events, we want to build a community that trusts us to present interesting concerts. Our focus is on weaving together programs that help us perceive something about ourselves, or the world around us. Part of knowing where you are, is knowing where you came from, so future programs will also focus on making connections between older, more familiar music and new, unfamiliar music. I think this will help our community better appreciate and connect to new music.
AW: How do you think Sound of Late will be known in two or three years from now?
If anything, we want to be known for our work building and supporting the music and arts communities. The more people we can get involved, and the more opportunity we can create, the more robust the community will be as a whole. We believe this will open up other opportunities for us as well as for everyone else.
Gary Ferrington is a Senior Instructor Emeritus, College of Education, University of Oregon. He is an advocate for new music and serves as project coordinator for Oregon ComposersWatch.