Austin’s New Music Co-op typically stages small concerts in untraditional venues — on the tiny Bird Island in the middle of Ladybird Lake, for example, or in the historic Seaholm Power Plant before it was renovated to modern office building.
But with its next concert the composers cooperative goes big with a full string orchestra and a collaboration with choir Panoramic Voices. And “Bound Together” will be presented in the historic Jessen Auditorium, the University of Texas’ original recital hall.
Panoramic Voices artistic director Brent Baldwin conducts the concert which is anchored by Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres,” a classic work of late 20th century music minimalism. The program also features new pieces by Baldwin, Andrew Stoltz and Travis Weller.
“After stepping away from composing for eight years, Pärt returned to music writing in 1976 with a much simpler, more minimal style than he’d employed in his younger years,” explains Baldwin. “Using tintinnabuli as a descriptor (Latin for “bells”), he brought forth a number of new works, including one he would subject to a myriad of instrumentation, Fratres (Brothers).”
Baldwin and the musicians will be performing the 1992 edition for solo violin, percussion, and strings.
“Beginning with a flurry of arpeggios from the solo violinist (concertmaster Sara Sasaki), the work settles into a recurring ‘heartbeat’ motif performed by percussion and pizzicato violin, with a string chords unfolding in meditative succession,” says Baldwin. “The quiet pacing of these textures and harmonies alternate with the heartbeat motif (painting what the composer described as a battle between the instant and eternity), and exemplify perfectly Part’s tintinnabuli style.”
For his lastest composition, Baldwin used Lynd Ward’s potent 1936 graphic novel “Song Without Words” as inspiration for a choral tone poem.
Using his extraordinarily detailed wood engravings, Ward tells the tale of an expectant mother and her anxiety over bringing a child into a world of fascism (the inspiration for the story was autobiographical: Ward and writer May McNeer were then expecting their second child amidst the rise of Hitler).
Says Baldwin: “Fiercely anti-war in theme, and with brutal and disturbing imagery, Ward’s ‘Song Without Words’ describes the woman’s numerous nightmare scenarios she imagines might be in store for her future child. There’s a glimmer of hope at the end as the woman and her partner bask in the glow of their city, bracing defiantly for the unknown future.”
“Given current events, fascism is sadly a topic we must deal with yet again. This work attempts to be a small part of that conversation.”
In keeping with the work’s title, the singers of Panaromic Voices will forgo traditional text in Baldwin’s piece and instead sing vocal sound textures.
Says Baldwin: “The singers will be painting in sound what graphic novelist — and Lynd Ward devotee — Art Spiegelman describes as ‘a howl of pained outrage.'”