In keeping with its long-term efforts to leverage different styles of new music, the Fulcrum Point New Music Project will convene its second Black Composer Speaks concerts and discussions this Thursday and Friday in Urbana-Champaign and Chicago. This year’s theme is Exhortation, and the event includes audience interactions after the concerts and a panel discussion in Chicago.
Since its inception in 1998, Fulcrum Point has made it its mission to bridge different elements of new music, both composed and improvised. “Fulcrum Point leverages between classical and avant-garde, jazz, electronic music,” explained Artistic Director Stephen Burns in an interview last month. He likened it to “finding that point where classical tradition and improvisation come together, high-art, low-art, music, and politics…” Fulcrum Point’s program could mix classical with pop, fluxus, jazz, electronic, just about anything.
This is the second year that Fulcrum Point has brought African Americans together for music making and conversation. When asked about the title, Burns explained, “Last year was Proclamation… to announce the initiative. This year we noticed that society needs more encouragement, so Exhortation!”
“This program allows Fulcrum to demonstrate the variety of music to be found by black composers beyond R&B and jazz,” said Burns, pointing out that the program features three generations of black composers representing diverse aspects of compositional and performance styles. The new generation leads off the program with a world premiere by Chicago cellist, composer and educator Tomeka Reid. Present Awareness is a commission by Fulcrum Point and the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts that bridges the other styles on the program. Burns described Reid as having a foot “in both the classical and jazz worlds.”
Veteran composers will be represented by Alvin Singleton and Olly Wilson. Describing Singleton’s music as “sharp and declaratory,” Burns noted that, “The space between the gestures are as important as the sounds are.” Different works by Singleton will be performed on each night. On Thursday, the audience in Urbana-Champaign will hear In Our Own House, a quartet for piano, saxophone, trumpet, and percussion; on Friday, the audience in Chicago will hear Greed Machine, a duo for piano and vibraphone. Wilson’s style is French impressionist, modernist, using extended techniques, frequently with vocals and improv-like free notation. Both concerts will feature Wilson’s expressionist Piano Trio.
The program includes a string quartet by Jessie Montgomery, Strum, which is followed by a quartet for piano and strings by Jeffrey Mumford, Still Air. Comparing Mumford’s work to Elliot Carter, Burns likened it to “cloud formations…, [an] organic coalescence of clouds.” Concluding the programs will be a free jazz improvisation by Kahil El’ Zabar and the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, with composer and vocalist El’Zabar on percussion, Corey Wilkes on trumpet, and Alex Harding on sax.
In addition to placing different styles of music onto a single program, Fulcrum Point also explores the ways to make art music more accessible to audiences. There typically are opportunities for audience members to meet the performers and composers; performances are frequently accompanied by panel discussions or other ways to learn about the experience.
Before the Chicago performance of Black Composer Speaks: Exhortation! Tomeka Reid and Stephen Burns will be part of a panel discussion headed by Steve Bynum, the producer of WBEZ’s Worldview. Entitled The Convergence of Experimental Musical Mediums: A Roundtable Discussion on inclusion, access, and aesthetics in music from the Black Diaspora, the panel also includes Fulcrum Point’s Curator of Inclusion and Discoveries, Seth Parker Woods, flutist with Eighth Blackbird Nathalie Joachim, and curator, DJ, entrepreneur Sadie Woods. Topics will address the convergence of different musical styles and the inclusion of all.
Stephen Burns and the Fulcrum Point New Music Project were major organizers and participants in last October’s Ear Taxi Festival. Asked about it, he exclaimed, “It was amazing! … a perfect celebration for new composed classical music.” He pointed to the many “opportunities for emerging composers while celebrating the great traditions,” and felt that “it raised the visibility of the Chicago scene on the national and international stage.” Burns praised the fact that it “created a new programming aesthetic, a rich variety of perspectives on one program.”
Burns also confirmed that attendance was better than organizers had hoped. The fully non-profit Ear Taxi Festival shared all residual proceeds to performers and composers, who received nearly “twice as much as originally promised.”
When asked if there would be a second Ear Taxi Festival, Burns noted that if there were to be another ETF, New Music Chicago would be involved. He hinted that something could come in the 2018-19 timeframe. And what new and different things could we expect from a second festival? Burns thought the next festival could incorporate more improvisational styles.
Fulcrum Point’s New Music Project’s The Black Composer Speaks: Exhortation! opens Thursday, February 9 at 7:30 pm, at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 500 S Goodwin Ave., Urbana. Tickets are $10-$34. On Friday, February 10, the project moves to the Promontory, 5311 S Lake Park Ave, in Chicago. The roundtable discussion is at 5:45 pm, with the performance at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $25-$35.