Arts: Acoustica 21 Series Marries a Cello and an Art Gallery

By Miguel Angel Estafan, Jr., artburstmiami.com

On Saturday, Sept. 29, just before 8:00 p.m., a small group of people assembled in front of the Harold Golen Gallery in the Wynwood Art District. The crowd consisted of musicians, possibly some gallery owners, and an older couple who confessed they had never been to this part of town before. There was a discussion about the Wynwood Art Walk that takes place every second Saturday each month. The detractors declared that the event had grown too commercial — that many attendees go for the food trucks and the party more than for the actual art and galleries.

Others suggested that the event is creating awareness, patronage and participation by brining people to an area that almost over a decade ago was still a blighted remnant, populated by empty warehouses and the old railroad yard.

Driving into this area at night still fills one with some skepticism. Like the older couple, who had never been to the area before, you might find yourself doubting whether you’ve actually come to the right place to see a contemporary performance by classical musicians. But that was exactly what was taking place as part of just one of the exciting programs cultivated by FETA, the Foundation for Emerging Technologies and Arts.

FETA cultivates “composition, performance, production, and research of emerging electronic music, art and multimedia forms…[and] seeks to expand…understanding of the world…through exploration and promotion of novel expressions that fuse arts with technologies.”

The current programming consists of: 12 Nights, a concert series of electronic music and art at the aforementioned gallery and other venues; SofIA: Sonorities of Interactive Acoustics, a group of performers, composers, and computer musicians; Cyberinstruments via Physical Modeling, a method of computing sound waves via mathematical models; and Acoustica 21, a presentation of contemporary acoustic art music composed after the year 2000.

The latest of this last series was to be a brother and sister duo of mezzo-soprano Rachel and cellist Jason Calloway. The rarity of finding world-renown, classically trained siblings becomes even more precious considering their work in contemporary music literature. But shortly before the scheduled performance, FETA director Juraj Kojs stepped out to advise the small assembly that Ms. Calloway would not be able to perform that evening. However, Calloway offered to perform alone, leaving him spare minutes to put together an unrehearsed program so that that the patrons could still enjoy the night out.

Kojs was an immediately likeable and charming personality, offering his guests water and chocolates, and adjusting the heating/cooling system for our comfort in the small Harold Golen Gallery. After making apologies again for the missing mezzo-soprano, he introduced Calloway, who sat in front of the far wall facing the audience, seated in four rows of white chairs. All around the gallery were the colorful and provocative collection of 1970s to 1980s gouache paintings and illustrations originally commissioned for Mexican comic books and pulp-fiction literature.

But the true gem of the evening was hearing an internationally recognized musician explain the background of the composers and the pieces he was about to play — and in some cases his own personal history with the music.

The first of three pieces in the spontaneous program was the Florida premiere of SAbAH (2006) by Eneko Vadillo Perez, a native of the Canary Islands. The piece was written specifically for Calloway eight years ago and premiered in the Acanthes Festival in France. The piece described as having a “north African tinge” was a fixed improv around a melodic group of pitches with a sparse musical landscape evoking open arid spaces. The second offering, pensieri sparsi e sogni del giorno (2006) was composed by cellist and native of Mannheim, Germany, Volker Blumenthaler. Calloway said that although he had learned the piece a year ago in Darmstadt, he had never actually performed it — making this select evening the American premiere. Described as “a textbook of all the technical effects” a musician can perform on a cello, the piece was likened to Ravel’s piano trio’s enigmatic pantoum, a Malaysian poetic form where the second and fourth lines of a stanza are the first and third lines of the next. Having this knowledge, you can listen for the repetitions in the overall modestly dynamic piece.

Calloway described the final piece, 1980’s Khse Buon, as a “golden oldie” composed by composer Chinary Ung, originally from Takéo, Cambodia. After immigrating to the United States to study clarinet, Ung has since then become a teacher at UC San Diego. He is known as a composer that speaks from his heart and mixes traditional Cambodian musical elements with western instrumentation.

The solo string piece Khse Buon was the only composition created between 1974 and 1985. The hiatus was due to the Cambodian holocaust by the Khmer Rouge in which Ung lost many members of his own family. The piece was melancholic as Calloway played legato, with faraway sounds like distant flutes and the pizzicato of the strings striking lamentful chords.

The performance, all of 45 minutes, was a rare and wonderful experience. The programming by Juraj Kojs has proved to be unique and exciting, with avant-garde and contemporary musicians in unique venues full of art and visuals. Music and art lovers should add this catalogue of offerings to expand their palate of the visuals to be found in the Wynwood Arts District.

The next performance of Acoustica 21, New York-based Ensemble Pamplemousse, which mix acoustic and electronic music, will be presented this Saturday, Oct. 13, at 8:00 p.m. at Pax Miami, 337 S.W. 8th St., Miami. Jason Calloway will have a repeat performance at Harold Golen Gallery on Nov. 3. Admission is free. For further information on all FETA’s programming and schedules visit www.fetafoundation.org.

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