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Concert Preview: Voice of This Generation

September 7, 2011

The end of summer is normally signaled by concerts fighting over calendar space for me. In the next few weeks I plan to try and highlight a few of the programs that jumped out at me by asking some of the concert participants some questions. First up is Voice of this Generation, a new art song series organized by Philadelphia composers. It’s part of 2011’s Philly Live Arts and Fringe Festival, and you can all check it out September 17 (7pm) or 18 (2:30pm or 7pm) at theFirstUnitarianChurch.

Billed as a very casual and hip event, Voice of this Generation takes its name from a Kanye West quote asserting that he’ll be viewed as the “voice of this generation.” Tony Solitro and Scott Ordway are using the event to assert that the works they’re presenting are better representations than West’s music. In a playful way the ploy works to tell potential concertgoers that art music is still living, breathing, and reacting to today’s world. This is an especially relevant point to make during a festival like Live Arts/Fringe that showcases so much cutting edge and fresh work across all disciplines.

I asked Tony, whose piece War Wedding will be on the program, if he could get a few quotes from people participating in the concert. Unfortunately there was too much good stuff to ‘publish’ without turning this into an essay, so I’ve done some snipping.  The questions are from him, who also offered that “Philly is a hotbed for new music, but audiences seem alienated by the old traditions. Why not strip away the formal dress and stuffy atmosphere, and focus on hearing vibrant and communicative music surrounded by great friends?”

He wrote War Wedding for Justin Vickers, who described the piece as “a psychological roller-coaster of love and anxiety and interpreting it is at once heartbreaking and exacting. There is an intimacy that must be accessed prior to performing the piece that suggests the immediacy of the narrator’s involvement. Inherent to that intimacy is the vulnerability of the act of love… especially love in the midst of war.”

Andrew McPherson created a new version of A Lullaby, reducing a chamber piece to voice and piano. The piece uses a poem by local poet Matt Thomas for the text, and Andrew describes the poem beginning  “with bleak imagery of a cold, lifeless universe, but somehow turns into a kind of personal love letter.  There’s something about the emotional shift near the end that I find endlessly captivating, and I tried to bring that out in the music.”

One of the pianists on the concert, Tim Ribchester, offered “I try to create a theatrical reality that continuously draws the audience in, according to the grammar of whatever style I’m performing. This means understanding where the music is going and, like a good tour guide, illuminating what’s there and showing its relevance to what came before and what comes next. People are very intuitive in their response to musical structure, and even very complex music can be enjoyed by all if the performer is committed to unlocking its secrets. The notes are static on paper and it’s our job as musicians to give them appropriate momentum, whether we’re playing Mozart, tango, new music ofPhiladelphia, or improvising freely.”

Also on the performance is a very bizarre setting of Vaslav Nijinsky memoirs written from an insane asylum. Composed by Scott Ordway it sounds thoroughly creepy and beautiful. Melissa Dunphy’s Tesla’s Pigeon, previously featured on the show, is also going to be sung by Jessica Lennick. Talking about her performance in the piece, she says “I think that, dramatically, my task is easy…. Melissa has such a great sense of dramatic urgency and her music and text just sweep you along effortlessly.  I know that it’s impossible for me to sing “Tesla’s Pigeon” without getting caught up in it myself.”

More generally, she offers some thoughts on all of the music and perspective on her role in the concert. “There’s this universal assumption these days that new classical music has to be disjunct, or atonal, or dramatically inert, but the composers assembled for VOTG all defy conventional wisdom.  The music here is truly surprising, engrossing, and, more than anything else entertaining.  I think people assume when they go to an evening of classical music that they have to sacrifice the spectacular and the theatrical, but this program completely embraces it.  It’s easy to communicate with an audience when you’re working with composers who have a really specific point of view and a story to tell.  My job is just to embrace that story and embody it to the best of my abilities!

Hopefully you can check out one of their dynamic theatrical performances. All details can be found at  Thanks again to Tony for hounding all of the performers and composers to shed some light on the event.

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