I have the privilege of living walking distance from some amazing local art, and on Saturday I stopped by the LunArt festival.
I went with my friend Izzie, whose mother, Katrin Talbot, was being featured as a poet and photographer.
The weather was exhaustingly humid, and we were both happy to make our way to the air-conditioned Overture center.
Pictured above is the stage, including Talbot's photography, and a slideshow of pulled lines of her poetry.
There were also these fun lamps above us that were lit with different colors, and don't really show their true effect when the house lights are up.
Before the show began, we were treated to a brief explanation of the festival - a promotion of compositions and artistic works created by women due to the overwhelming underprogramming of works by women elsewhere.
One of the festival organizers, Iva Ugrčić, Founder & Executive Director at LunART Festival, Artistic Director at Rural Musicians Forum, Flutist at Black Marigold, who did her doctoral work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (icon status), let us know that photography was encouraged.
So all this iPhone photography was kosher.
Mongolian Impressions (2014) by Xinyan Li
The program opened with probably my favorite musical piece of the night. This is mostly because it prominently features a bassoon.
I am aware of my biases. (for anyone new to my blog, I play bassoon)
The piece also featured some strings and an intense percussion part that the percussionist, Michael Koszewski, said during strike, has had to be played by two percussionists during other programmings.
It was written one of the call for scores winners, Dr. Xinyan Li who is pictured below.
We got to hear two movements of the piece, "Love Song" and "Horse Racing," but after looking through her website I see that there's also a third movement, "Playing with the Snow," that we didn't get to hear.
Recordings of all three movements are available on her website if you missed the show.
Both movements, at many moments but not all, fit into what I often describe as 'soundscape' where the different instrumental colors paint a setting. The bassoon remains prominent as a character while the trills and scattered notes of the string section fill the background.
For the title like "Love Song," the first movement is aggressive. It opens softly but runs to a climax quickly with chaos and dissonance. Refreshing, and more importantly, full of bassoon.
The second movement "Horse Racing" opens with an energy expected from the title, including similar features from the first movement.
Unfortunately I found myself distracted during this movement because the bassoon had a two note feature identical to that of the Outset Island Forest theme from the The Legend of Zelda Wind Waker.
Like literally the same jump. A major seventh jump from a B to an A. Listen to the recordings side by side. It's uncanny, and I was shook.
Li let me take a picture with her. 10/10 piece. 10/10 composer. 2/10 lighting.
Oh, and as for the bassoonist, Jacqueline Wilson, she killed it. That part was wild and very high at times, and Wilson remained remarkably in control. 10/10 bassoon.
Freeze-dried Love by Katrin Talbot
So, like I was biased in Li's favor because of the bassoon, I can't really give an impartial review because I know Katrin
And part of me actually wishes I could have experienced her poetry performance fresh.
When I read dry read poetry, I don't think I'm alone in placing myself as the voice of the poem and stepping inside of the experiences.
With Katrin, I know her and I know her family. This actually made her poetry resonate with me in quite a different way because I could conjure up the images of the people she was writing about and learn new things.
She succeeds with her poetry something I struggle to do regularly, brevity with ten dollar words that slip of the tongue delicately without any air of pretension.
Like, so help me god, you tell me to fit the word harlequin in a poem and I'll run, but Katrin manages to smith this language in a way that makes each word shine.
With a slide show of poetry behind her, Katrin elevated her work into a captivating audio-visual experience.
So, for all you who don't know her. Go pick up her books or follow her insta.
Sun Songs (2013) by Jenni Brandon
Oh look, another double reed!
Brandon wrote this piece, using translations of three pieces of 'Traditional American Indian Prose and Poetry' as lyrics.
I'm not well versed in vocal technique, especially solo work. I've one year of high school choir and one year of university choir under my belt. So like, I'm an expert on the Misa Criolla and nothing else.
Melanie Cain, soprano, did a great job. She was pleasant to listen to and I can imagine that it was a difficult piece.
As for the piece's composition, props to Brandon for the use of the poetry. When writing for voice, I find myself frustrated and being forced into rhyme scheme, despite how many times I've personally performed music without rhyme. Brandon's use of repetition and matching lyric to line made the piece wonderful to listen to.
And on an immature note, this line was repeated a handful of times and I couldn't handle it.
Michael Pollan, I see you and you're not allowed anywhere near me.
Composition No. 1 - "Dona Nobis Pacem" (1970/71) by Galina Ustvolskaya
Closing out the first half, we were treated to this monster of a piece.
I don't know if I need to say more than "it was tuba with piccolo and piano accompaniment" for you to conjure up an idea.
But here's a recording if you're unimaginative.
Dabbling with the highest and lowest ends of the orchestral spectrum, this piece is affronting in the most intentional way possible.
It definitely gets its point across and my deepest apologies to Ugrčić, Thomas Curry (tuba), and Satoko Hayami (piano) for bearing through the rehearsal process.
This piece is a wild reversal of anything you'd expect and makes me wonder whether or not there was merit to that bassoon - trumpet duet I wrote back in high school...
On a technical note, I'd really like to see the piano score. There is a significant amount of cluster stomping and parts where Hayami would literally slam her arm down on the keys. I want to know if this was written as approximates, or if Ustvolskaya is a sadist and actually marked all the notes required to hit.
Three Pieces for Four Hands by Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel
This piece didn't really resonate with me aside from giving me flashbacks to piano lessons.
I will say, in my musical education we focused very little on authorship and composer biography, so it was interesting to learn about the life of the children of well-known composers.
So yeah, go read up on Fanny, she's pretty cool.
Other than that, it's always amusing to watch the fearful dance of the piano duet as both players tangle arms.
The Blind Lifeguard by Katrin Talbot
A little less lyric and a little more narrative than her first set, and I'm always a fan of narrative poetry.
I'm honestly not sure how to review poetry when I don't have a manuscript in front of me, so go visit a library or something.
Japanese Garden (2006) by Doina Rotaru
Okay, so this one was probably my second favorite of the musical pieces.
Ugrčić wrote her dissertation on Rotaru, and said that Rotaru's work is so unknown here in the states that this would be an American premiere.
And boy was it a treat.
This piece is for bass flute, piccolo, (and regular flute? My memory is failing me. There were several flutes), and is played alongside an audio track.
Now the only other 'played alongside an audio track' piece I am familiar with is David Pinkham's In the Beginning of Creation. Pinkham was born in '23 and died in '06 and I can only imagine that the audio track was recorded back when computers were 20 ft. deep.
Contrast that with Rotaru's piece from 2006, the audio track was fascinating, coordinating, and not the least bit distracting.
Ugrčić's performance was amazing as ever, and this is a piece that you definitely have to hear for yourself.
The Woman with the Unfathomable Eyes (2010) by Jenni Brandon
This last piece featured a dancer!
Giving me vibes of pieces like Godzilla Eats Las Vegas by (oh dear lord I didn't know that was Whitacre. Forgive me for I have sinned), this piece used a narrator and a dancer to tell a film noir-style mystery.
It was like listening to a radio show, except then you could see them too. And it was live.
It was super campy, sort of a prerequisite for the genre, and it was a fun way to end the show.
It also gave me vibes of the soundtrack to the opening cut scene of Pac-Man World 2.
Overall I had a great time, and I think the experience successfully highlights the absurdity of female composer underprogramming.
If you take the theory of 'female composers compose no differently than male composers' then programming female composers can be done completely without notice, save the program. If you take the theory of 'female composers compose differently due to sociological and experiential factors' then programming female composers allows you to tap into a world of sound that's been neglected for centuries.
That's probably naive to say without a complete understanding of music business and the monetary motivations of household composer names, so go out and support local art, female art, queer art, trans art, and anything else in the alphabet soup. When these programs succeed, it opens doors for more to succeed.
And for those of my readers in music education, your students are too stressed to care about literally anything right now, so please go ahead and program more female composers if you aren't already, half won't notice, and the other half will only be affected positively. Audience members come to your concerts for the performers, not necessarily the pieces, so help promote change on the student level and maybe that'll leak into the professional sphere in due course.
Have a great day everyone.