I've been presenting contemporary music concerts now for over 15 years and have been involved in performing in them for a considerably longer time. Over the years, it never ceases to amaze me how much effort it takes to put on a concert - especially a "new music" concert. My first composition teacher, Roger Hannay (1930-2006), who also ran a contemporary music ensemble at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, always bemoaned the fact that it took almost Herculean efforts sometimes to produce even a single event. This is true, of course, for any concert, but even more so for the presentation of contemporary music.
Like most new music groups nestled within the academy, my ensemble, neoPhonia, has no set rehearsal time within the School of Music. Students do not receive much credit for enrolling in the ensemble and what little credit they do receive does not count towards core performance requirements in their curriculum. The fact that it is difficult to get students to participate regularly is almost moot as one considers that a significant portion of the contemporary music repertoire is technically too imposing for a lot of students (especially undergraduates). With ad hoc rehearsal times the only resource, a presenter like myself most often turns to faculty performers or outside professional performers to present pieces. I am more blessed than most as I have wonderful colleagues at my school who often perform on my neoPhonia concerts purely as a service to the school and a personal favor to me. Without their generosity, presenting concerts would be impossible. However, I cannot continually ask my friends to perform for free and so must find funding to either pay them in ways that do not interfere with established protocols for payment within a state university (not easy) or pay outside professionals. Given that my annual budget devoted exclusively to contemporary music is, on average, a paltry sum, this is a challenge in and of itself.
With every concert, I dance around repertoire and how it may be performed. Can students do it? Can faculty colleagues help? Do I have funds for outside guests artists? Can I obtain the music easily? Are there other technical issues to be resolved? In the case of electronics - do we have the equipment and staff necessary at any given time to mount a program requiring the use of technology?
Pianist Brandt Fredriksen & clarinetist Ken Long
at the neoPhonia dress rehearsal.
Once all those hurdles are overcome - there's the inevitable unforeseen event that can threaten the entire production. Such was the case this past Tuesday night at the second neoPhonia concert of the season. I had thought this to be a wonderfully easy production. Two outstanding performers from our faculty, clarinetist Ken Long and pianist Brandt Fredriksen had agreed to perform the entire concert and the repertoire was securely covered. For once, I thought there would be no issues. However, four days before the concert, I learned that the lift for the orchestra pit in the recital hall had malfunctioned. The concert would have to proceed with a giant square hole in the stage. This would be fine, of course, for an opera with a orchestra in the pit, but not ideal for a chamber concert. Not only would placing the performers behind the pit compromise the sound a bit in the hall, it also would just look ridiculous.
I would not have blamed the performers for canceling the performance under the circumstances. However, to their great credit (and my considerable relief) they were extremely flexible and gave an incredible performance despite the less than ideal performing conditions.
Basking in the afterglow of the successful concert, it's hard to imagine my next event. However, I produce four of these each season and the next one looms just 89 days away. Everything looks fine for this upcoming event - performers and repertoire are secured...
What could possibly go wrong...?