‘Bach to Now’ connects past to present

Mary Mattingly

Baroque, which was composed around 1600 to 1750, and contemporary music aren’t really that different. And by playing together for the first time, the Grand Valley State University Early Music Ensemble and New Music Ensemble are trying to demonstrate just how well they fit together.

The collaboration performance, “Bach to Now,” which takes place on April 6, shows off the parallels of Baroque and modern music.

“(Pablo Mahave-Veglia and I) always talked about it and thought, ‘wouldn’t it be cool?’” said Bill Ryan, director of the New Music Ensemble. “There are similarities in the pieces being played. It’ll be nice to present both at the same time as a kind of potpourri event.”

The concert will play chronologically, opening with the Early Music Ensemble, directed by Pablo Mahave-Veglia, professor of cello at GVSU. The first piece, Bach Suite No. 1, will open the concert. The group will play the work using original Baroque instruments.

“There are some pieces of music that exist in alternate versions,” Mahave-Veglia said. “It happens in modern music too.”

The Early Music Ensemble demonstrated those versions when they presented the same piece during a concert on April 2, in which each movement was transcribed to a different duet. For example, there was a saxophone quartet and piano duet presenting movements of this suite. Some arrangements were made by the performers themselves, while some were preexisting.

As the April 6 concert progresses from the Baroque period to the modern, a composition of Ryan’s will be performed. The piece, titled “Stream,” is for violin and cello, and will be played by Mahave-Veglia with guest violinist Lina Bahn. Bahn will play in both the Early Music Ensemble and New Music Ensemble.

“Lina Bahn is a wonderful violinist who teaches at the University of Colorado—Boulder,” Mahave-Veglia said. “She is fluent on both the Baroque and modern violin.”

The New Music Ensemble will also be playing the winning pieces from the 60-second composition competition, which was March 14. The works were composed in response to the art gallery show “Mystery, Magic and Mayhem.”

The concert will end with a soundpainting piece, which will feature local first and second graders from Lamont Christian School, directed by Daniel Rhode, a recent GVSU graduate. Soundpainting is a live, composing sign language performance practice.

“(Lamont Christian has) been pretty great, the curriculum is open for what I can do and what I wanted to try,” Rhode said.

Since securing the job at Lamont Christian last fall, after graduating from GVSU in 2012, he has tested the boundaries to see how he can involve new music in his students’ curriculum.

“It’s introducing more advanced music at an earlier age,” Rhode said. “They seem to enjoy it.”

It took Rhode about four months to teach the sign language associated with soundpainting to his students, and after Ryan saw a video of the students rehearsing, he decided to include them in the concert.

Their collaboration has furthered, with Ryan being involved in their learning process, visiting the school and working with the students. The New Music Ensemble also played a concert at the school, rehearsing with the kids afterward.

“If you know the language, it’s easy to interact with it,” Rhode said. “The audience will see that it is music on the spot.”

He said his students are at an age where they have a lot of energy and get really excited to try new things, which helps them learn easily. He is excited to involve his students in the university setting, with professional musicians.

“They get an opportunity to see college-level musicians, people who will go on to become professional musicians,” Rhode said. “I hope it inspires them, gets them into the new music scene.”

And with Baroque and modern music, Mahave-Veglia said a lot of things are left up the performers, which will attract all types of audience members.

“The goal is to perform music from these periods well,” Ryan said. “Hopefully, we will broaden (the audience’s) perspective.”
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