This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 7, 2013: Alarm Will Sound, an acclaimed music ensemble best known for performances of cutting edge music by contemporary composers, will take a glance in the rear view mirror for the group’s Sheldon Concert Hall performance Oct. 9.
“This concert features more pieces written by dead people than we’ve ever played at a concert,” deadpans Gavin Chuck, managing director of the 20-piece ensemble, during a recent conference call from New York that also included AWS artistic director Alan Pierson.
The Sheldon concert, which kicks off the second Alarm Will Sound season in St. Louis, will include an array of compositions such as Richard Wagner’s “Siegfried Idyll,” composed in 1869; Charles Ives’ 1920 revision of his work, “Ragtime Dance No. 4”; György Ligeti’s “Chamber Concerto” from 1970; “Living Toys,” written in 1994 by English composer Thomas Adés and Stefan Freund’s arrangement of ”Cock/Ver 10” by Aphex Twin (electronic musician Richard David James).
“This is a ‘new’ old show,” Pierson said. “Our concerts are usually built around new works and new projects. But for this one, we were inspired by working with the Metropolitan Museum of Art as artists in residence there this coming season. We were thinking about all the incredible artistic history there that has endured and that the museum is preserving. And we wondered, if Alarm Will Sound were to make a permanent collection, what would be in it?”
The common thread that connects these diverse compositions is that the works were all written or arranged for sinfonietta; defined as a small orchestra that can – like AWS -- feature one of every instrument found in a full symphony.
“The sinfonietta – an ensemble that can produce all the colors of an orchestra but is a chamber group - is one tradition we are part of,” Pierson said. “So we went back to the very first piece written for sinfonietta, Wagner’s “Siegfried Idyll,” and started from there. It’s actually been very interesting to put together – and a healthy break from what we usually do.”
The AWS Sheldon concert will be repeated at the Met in New York on Oct. 11. AWS will return for several additional St. Louis concerts to complete its St. Louis season.
“We’re definitely doing another concert at the Sheldon in February,” Chuck said. “And we’ll be doing two more – a special event in March and a season-ending concert in May. One thing we definitely want to do with those two concerts is to both extend out our University of Missouri Columbia connection through the annual Mizzou International Composers festival every summer, and to also continue our efforts to integrate Alarm Will Sound into the performing arts community and the culture of St. Louis.”
Alarm Will Sound has been the resident ensemble for the past four summers at the MIzzou festival, and will return again in 2014. According to Pierson, one of the St. Louis season concerts by AWS will feature works written by composers for the Mizzou fest.
“We want to bringing in the best music that comes out of the summer festival,” Pierson said. “Over the past few years, a great catalog of works has been created. Now we want to take the best of those compositions and showcase them.”
“Our plan is to do a concert in Columbia one evening and then do the same concert in St. Louis the next night,” Chuck added. “We want to focus on a regional vision for new music.”
Community Music partnership
The concert in May will showcase another aspect of Alarm Will Sound’s effort to partner with St. Louis arts organizations – specifically a partnership with the Community Music School at Webster University.
Pierson said the decision to begin area partnerships here with an organization that focuses on young music students evolved from an experience AWS had two years ago working with young musicians in New York City.
“It all started a couple years ago with a collaboration with a group in New York City,” he recalls. “It was a very moving experience playing with young kids. So since we’re developing a home here in St. Louis, we wanted to do something similar. And Community Music School seemed an ideal way to start our partnerships.
“We want to make playing new music and working with living composers part of the ordinary life of students – and make the music more immediate, more human – and more alive.”
“The ultimate vision is to create what you might call an Alarm Will Sound Jr.,” Chuck said. “We want to eventually inspire a student group to perform contemporary music – and especially music written by their peers, 16-year-old musicians.”
The partnership with Community Music Schools started Sunday with a workshop.
“Christa Robinson, our oboist, is a music educator and has designed an activity that will help introduce ourselves to the students, and communicate the idea that an instrument can make all kinds of sounds,” Pierson said before the event had taken place. “We want to encourage them to be more experimental, to ‘play’ with their instruments in the fuller sense. Then we’ll have them use the sounds they discover as a framework for creating a composition.
“The ultimate goal is to create an environment where music making is more than just playing the right notes. We’ll be meeting with the students once a month at least, with the goal by the end of the season to have them play on a concert with us.”
For more information about Alarm Will Sound, visit www.alarmwillsound.com.