Terror is often the first response to unfamiliarity, and some of the boldest forays into the unfamiliar have launched under the banner of Modernism. Listening to new sounds can be akin to watching a horror movie—with ears covered rather than eyes—but given time, what was once disturbing can become intriguing.
Alarm Will Sound ventures into the outer reaches of propriety on Modernists. The album is bookended by tributes to two masterworks of modern recorded sound that have been arranged for the ensemble: “Revolution 9” by The Beatles (arranged by Matt Marks) and “Poème électronique” by Edgard Varèse (arranged by Evan Hause). Each piece is strange and otherworldly in its own way, with a provocative history of upsetting as many, if not more, listeners than they have won over.
The 23-piece band led by Alan Pierson, AWS Artistic Director, also performs work written for the ensemble by Wolfgang Rihm, Charles Wuorinen, AWS pianist John Orfe, and Augusta Read Thomas (whose “Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour” features vocal performances by Kirsten Sollek and Caleb Burhans).
As the Denver Post has noted, “Alarm Will Sound has grabbed the future of classical music and made it now—merging styles, erasing boundaries, championing experimentation and obviously having fun along the way.” This joyful and adventurous spirit fuels the beating heart of the Modernists album.
Next up, Alarm Will Sound will present works by Mira Calix, Rashad Becker, Tyondai Braxton, and Medeski, Martin and Wood as a part of Alarm System. Get to the Sheldon in St Louis on May 26 to see multiple world premieres by these artists.
Then, it's off to The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for a performance of Donnacha Dennehy's The Hunger. Based on the Great Irish Famine, The Hunger is an opera based on a rare first-hand account by Asenath Nicholson, an American so moved by the waves of immigrants arriving in New York that she travelled to Ireland to bear witness. The work also includes video of modern thinkers (Noam Chomsky, Paul Krugman, Branko Milanovic, Mureen Murphy, Megan Vaughan) who voice their ideas about income inequality, food insecurity, and political economics.
All of us in Alarm Will Sound have been shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Steven Stucky. Steven was one of our first guest composers at the Mizzou International Composer Festival, where he was a joyful collaborator and role model. Steven has been a good friend to Alarm Will Sound for many years and will be deeply missed. I was moved to see that his final tweet quoted one of my favorite Leonard Bernstein lines, which is also quoted in Alarm Will Sound's 1969 show: "this will be our response to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before."
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This is our world premiere performance at the Mizzou International Composers Festival in 2010.
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Stefan lives in Columbia, Missouri where he keeps busy as a professor of composition and music theory at the University of Missouri and as the music director of the Columbia Civic Orchestra. As a kid, he was composing even before he started playing the cello; now he does both with Alarm Will Sound. The group features his compositions quite often and Stefan loves writing for the ensemble because he can tailor the music to each person in the group.
Stefan went to Eastman for a MM and DMA in composition. He remembers meeting Alan on the 2nd floor promenade at Eastman and getting recruited to play with Ossia. Alarm Will Sound grew out of the Ossia ensemble and Stefan has been with the group ever since. His favorite Alarm Will Sound concert experience was at the University of South Carolina. He describes it as a wild concert with people lined up at the doors and standing ovations. Who knew classical music could be as exciting as a rock concert?
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