New Music Series Fuels Technical Innovation

Jun 17, 2020

When you watch Columbus Symphony violinist Alicia Hui’s upcoming virtual concert, she might take you on a walk through the woods or stroll with you along a sandy beach. Or she might serenade you before a breathtaking mountain vista – all with the help of a green screen and the internet.

Continuing closures of concert venues are inspiring Hui and other musicians to greater innovation in creating and presenting concerts online.

That creativity will be the focus of New Music Ohio, a new virtual concert series unfolding at 3 p.m. Sundays between June 21 and August 2. The series will feature Columbus musicians performing music across a wide range of contemporary styles in online concerts that leverage the innovative potential of technology.

All performances can be viewed free of charge on the Johnstone Fund for New Music’s Facebook page.

The first New Music Ohio concert will feature David Thomas, principal clarinetist with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, and his sister, flutist Amy Thomas in a program of 20th century works for both solo clarinet and clarinet and flute, including the Choros No. 2 by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos.

“It’s a showstopper, a drunken street love dance with drama to spare,” wrote Thomas of the Villa-Lobos piece in a recent email.

The remaining six concerts on the series will showcase saxophonist Michael Rene Torres (June 28); Alicia Hui (July 5), principal second violinist with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra; percussionist Dr. Mark Lomax, II (July 12); flutists Erin Helgeson Torres and Lindsey Goodman (July 19); Caroline Hong (July 26); and composer and performer Sharon Udoh, of the band Counterfeit Madison (Aug. 2).

Udoh is recipient of the Wexner Center for the Arts’ 2019-20 Artist Residency Award in the Performing Arts. She’ll present recent reworkings of some of her earlier songs for her band Counterfeit Madison.  This performance will also feature Columbus violinist Devin Copfer, and cellists John Koon and Sam Johnson.

“I have composed for different people, but these three (string players), the way that they sound together, it’s magical, and I want to ride it as long as I can,” Udoh said.

Udoh and her collaborators will record the works together with audio engineer Keith Hanlon in a socially distanced recording session at Columbus’ Secret Studio.

Counterfeit Madison, with vocalist and pianist Sharon Udoh, violinist Devin Copfer and cellists John Koon and Sam Johnson
Credit Sharon Udoh / Courtesy of Sharon Udoh

The stylistic range of music on the New Music Ohio series expands the typical understanding of “new music.”

“I think that the beauty of new music, particularly for the Johnstone Fund, is that it in recent years has expanded from a fairly narrow definition of what new music is to include the jazz experience, as well as even popular song writing,” said Michael Rene Torres, a New Music Ohio performer, program director for the Johnstone Fund for New Music and a lecturer at the Ohio State University School of Music.

Saxophonist Michael Rene Torres
Credit Erin Helgeson Torres / Courtesy of the Johnstone Fund for New Music

New Music Ohio, created and funded by the Johnstone Fund for New Music, is the third virtual concert series supported by the Johnstone Fund during the COVID-19 quarantine.

In April, the Johnstone Fund presented New York-based piano trio Bearthoven’s TV Dinners virtual concert series in three livestreamed performances on the Johnstone Fund’s Facebook page. The final performance in that series featured the world premiere of We All Howl at the Same Moon,  by New York-based jazz trumpeter and composer Jaimie Branch for streaming ensemble.  Each of the trio’s three musicians performed on Zoom and streamed to Facebook from different locations.

New York based trio Bearthoven performs We All Howl at the Same Moon by composer Jaimie Branch on the final concert of Bearthoven TV Dinners virtual concert series, April 2020.
Credit Bearthoven / Courtesy of the Johnstone Fund for New Music

Between late April and early June, the Johnstone Fund for New Music and the Columbus arts organization Streetlight Guild presented Culture in the Time of Corona. This virtual concert series featured Columbus musicians in weekly livestream or “Facebook Premiere” performances on Streetlight Guild’s Facebook page.

Zoe Johnstone and Scott Woods created Culture in the Time of Corona to give Columbus musicians an opportunity to perform and earn income when their incomes vanished during the COVID-19 shutdown.  New Music Ohio, Johnstone says, picks up where Culture in the Time of Corona left off.

“We thought about how it could support more musicians,” Johnstone said. “(New Music Ohio is) to provide them with income and a project.”

Saxophonist Michael Rene Torres says the performances in those earlier concerts fueled technological innovation for the performances that came later. He performed on Culture in the Time of Corona as a member of the Tower Duo and says that he and duo collaborator flutist Erin Helgeson Torres were inspired by the technological creativity they saw in the series’ first performance. That concert featured Columbus percussionist Cameron Leach performing an electroacoustic work in which electronic sounds responded to the notes Leach played.

Percussionist Cameron Leach performs I Leave You the Real World for solo vibraphone and electronics on the Culture in the Time of Corona virtual concert series.
Credit Cameron Leach / Courtesy of Johnstone Fund for New Music

“We watched Cameron’s show and we saw, whoa, there’s some creative things we can do here,” Michael Rene Torres said. “From that I said, okay, we can create an experience that can use some of these elements. So when Tower Duo performed, we did two electroacoustic pieces; we also did one piece with a movie, to present a completely different experience.”

Percussionist Joseph Krygier also performed on Culture in the Time of Corona and was inspired by Tower Duo’s performance on the series. He reached out to ask the duo for advice on releasing his virtual performance as a Facebook Premiere, which he had not done before. 

Percussionist Joseph Krygier performs all six parts for nylon drum brushes and wooden dowel of his work Airbrush on the Culture in the Time of Corona virtual concert series:

Credit Joseph Krygier / Courtesy of the Johnstone Fund for New Music

“What I’ve been able to do as program director is observe what the previous people have done and give that information to the next person and say, These are ideas that we’ve been using,” Torres said. “As each concert goes, the Johnstone Fund sort of learns new tricks, new ideas, new ways of presenting these things. So we’re growing just as much as the artists are growing. It’s very exciting.”

Torres attributes that growth and excitement to the creative freedom the Johnstone Fund for New Music gives the musicians . And creativity, Johnstone says, is what the Johnstone Fund for New Music is all about.

“We fund energy and creativity,” Johnstone said. “We’re all willing to be surprised. This whole thing is an adventure.”

Meanwhile, the cycle of inspiration and creativity continues in the runup to the June 21 launch of New Music Ohio. Alicia Hui says she might experiment with the viewers’ visual experience with the music by changing virtual backgrounds during her video performance.

“Probably something fun, outdoorsy and bright,” Hui said.

And Torres says Krygier’s performance on Culture in the Time of Corona is still inspiring him to think creatively as he prepares for his own June 28 New Music Ohio virtual concert.

“I’m thinking about how to be innovative, I’m thinking about how to connect with an audience in a virtual way and having a meaningful connection virtually,” Torres said. “What that will be (on New Music Ohio), I don’t know yet. But my brain is going on hyperdrive right now trying to make it special.”