Monday, May 11, 2015

New (and old) music in a new place

Justin Lepard graduated with a Bachelor's degree from UNL this weekend, but he's already had a positive influence on the Lincoln Classical music scene. Last night, he held his senior recital at The Pilgrimer, a unique coffee house supporting the Lincoln community. Earlier this year, he performed a concert featuring new and exciting pieces which you can read more about here.

Justin Lepard
photo by James Dean
Last night's program featured a variety of styles of music from the Romantic time period to serial music and concluding with Jazz.

The setting was intimate. Just a few rows circling the small stage. Sounds from next door, a pub, were audible through the wall and several times, bass was heard thumping from traffic going by outside. It's not what we're accustomed to in our usual concert-going experience of sitting in a still, quiet, and expansive concert hall. It makes you think that this is how so much music has been experienced over the centuries from chamber ensembles in the 18th-19th centuries and before to the start of so many "garage bands" in the past decades. We're not just passive listeners, we're active participants in the musical experience.

Each piece was exciting and provoking in its own way. Brahms Cello Sonata in E Minor, performed with collaborative pianist, Emily Tidd, was an example of Romantic music, and it was exciting and emotional--especially in that intimate setting. Le Grande Tango of Astor Piazzolla, also performed with Tidd, was a flashy and fun piece showing more modern and Latin inspired Classical music.

While the intimate experience could've been put to even better use by Lepard sharing more thoughts about each piece or by drawing attention to the musical structure or themes to give a sort of listening guide to the audience, he did share one thought that was thought-provoking.

Lepard was about to perform the last three movements of the serialist Six Pieces for Violoncello by Roger Sessions, the first movements of which he had cleverly interspersed before and between the Brahms and Piazzolla, when he started talking about the Beatles. That reference had to get people's attention. Lepard said that the music of the Beatles is more musically complex and creative than you would expect, but when Paul or John would be asked about why they had chosen a specific chord, they wouldn't always even know what that chord was--they just liked it. Why bring this up in reference to a serial piece? Even though serial music is so organized that it is composed using "algorithms" and a matrix, it too is for our experience. Basically, listen; experience. Whether it's the Beatles or Roger Sessions, you can experience music or marvel at the mathematic organization of it--and there's always something to stretch your ears a little.

The cello-bassoon duo was certainly a piece that required an open mind and ear. A piece originally composed for two bassoons by Sofia Gubaidulina, Lepard transcribed the second bassoon part for cello (and had to tune the cello down in order to play it). Performing on the bassoon was Jeffrey McCray, bassoon professor at the School of Music. With two very different instruments, it was fascinating to see and hear the way in which Lepard used his cello--creatively finding techniques with which to perform almost bassoon-like passages.

At the end, Lepard had some fun in store for the audience as Kurt Knecht and Eric Hitt joined him on the tiny stage for some jazz. Evident here was not the concentration and effort seen earlier in the young performer, but the simple and unadulterated joy in creating music.

Lepard is promoting some great ideas: bring art music (of all kinds) to the community in coffee houses and unconventional venues and perform new music and compositions.

These ideas are growing and are awesome to see gaining momentum among Lincoln musicians.

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