The Alarm Will Sound ensemble presents an extraordinary performance at Artpark on August 9.
Although live performances at Artpark have been whittled down to bare bones this summer, there is still good music to be heard. Over the years, Artpark, established in 1974, has hosted a wide range of traditional and cutting-edge musical and other arts events. This year, many of the performances and events originally scheduled for the summer have been canceled or postponed, including the BPO concert scheduled August 1 as part of the Strawberry Moon Festival. But there is still one extraordinary musical performance/adventure on tap.
John Luther Adams is a renowned American composer whose music strives for connection to community and to the natural world. "One of my greatest hopes for my music is that it may be of use," says Adams. "At this difficult moment, it’s more important than ever for us to remember our connections with the larger-than-human world, and to celebrate the never-ending music of this miraculous planet that is our one and only home." On August 9, Artpark presents Ten Thousand Birds by the award-winning and highly decorated Adams as part of its Music in the Woods series. Artistic director Alan Pierson leads the twenty-person explorative ensemble, Alarm Will Sound, in the composition based on the songs of the region’s native and migratory birds. The performance is designed to enable musicians and audience to actually intermingle (at a safe distance) and hear the music from a continually changing perspective. The ensemble rehearsed the music individually and remotely and Alan Pierson put it all together with a number of electronic and digital gadgets in his Brooklyn apartment.
"John Luther Adams wrote Ten Thousand Birds particularly for us," says Pierson. "So usually when a composer writes us a piece, they give us a score that tells every member of the ensemble what to play and when. And it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. With Ten Thousand Birds, John did something really different. Instead, he gave us a pile of songs, each of them based on some sounds from the natural world: bird songs, the call of a frog, the sound of wind in the morning, birds flapping their wings. And it’s my job, as director of the piece, for each space that we perform it in—and usually we play the piece outside—to find out about the space and envision how to put this piece into the space. And also to determine how each member of the ensemble knows what to play and when, and where to go and when, so that we fill the space with sound and transform the environment into a magical experience of this music."
Pierson’s colleague Paul Melnikow, another artist working with the ensemble says, "These are extraordinary, beautiful performances by the players of Alarm Will Sound. And a beautiful composition. Some of them really sound like birds and others are more interpretive. Some of the music feels fun and some feels really tender and touching. They embody a lot of the longing that we’re feeling and the people who are missing from our lives during this time."
"When I first had the idea to bring Ten Thousand Birds into my apartment, I had no clue how much work it was going to be, but I also had no idea how rich and expressive and emotional it would come to feel," says Pierson. "The process of working remotely with members of the ensemble on their parts brought me to a discovery of a new way to make music together. And do it in a way I never would have come up with if it weren’t for the limitations of the moment. And that is exactly what Alarm Will Sound is doing right now, using what we have on hand in this moment, the technology, the connection, and using all of our creativity—both us and our friends in the world—to discover new ways of making music together. So we’re very excited in what we have to bring and share with you."
The BPO and the BCP
The BPO’s annual Bidwell Park concert was also a casualty of the pandemic, but the orchestra’s weekly archival concerts continue to be broadcast on WNED-FM at 7 p.m. each Tuesday evening. The Buffalo Chamber Players, many of whom are members of the orchestra, can also be heard and seen, as their performances are livestreamed every Thursday evening at 7 p.m. on Facebook and YouTube. The ensemble, now in its thirteenth and most technically challenging season, presents an interactive performance where viewers can pose questions and comments directly to the players. "Those are things you can’t do at a live concert," says BCP artistic director Janz Castelo. According to Castelo, presentations may also feature virtual chats with prominent composers or other musical personalities and viewers can toss questions or comments within that portion of the program as well. Founded by Castelo in 2007, the Buffalo Chamber Players performed at Buffalo Seminary for their first eight years, then at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery auditorium for four years. When the Gallery closed for renovation last year, the group began performing at the Mary Seaton Room at Kleinhans, also home of the Buffalo Chamber Music Society.
BCP programs have generally developed around a musical theme and that continues with the virtual concerts. Last year, for example, the group performed a program entitled Émigrés that featured the works of prominent composers such as Stravinsky and Prokofiev creating music away from their homelands. Another program devoted to choral music was a collaboration with the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus. Themes from the previous season included No Strings Attached (winds and percussion only), Schumann 1842, ¡Viva España!, and Images from the Dark Land (musical depictions of war). A virtual program this June spotlighted Buffalo composer Roland Martin’s collaboration with the visual artist Catherine Parker, who created breathtaking paintings to accompany eight poems by Pablo Neruda. There are many technical issues involved in the virtual programs and Castelo spent more than thirty hours preparing for a program on the Brandenburg Concertos. "Basically, the players stream live to me and I stream out to everybody," says Castelo. "We are making this up as we go, but we are all in it together. Music, after all, is not a job, it’s a life choice."